Archive for December, 2006

Year of development giving way to year of transformation

Saturday, December 30th, 2006

Bob Ransford
Sun

Nearly every statistic points to 2006 as a landmark year for new-home construction and sales in the Lower Mainland.

Prices rose to stratospheric levels for most forms of housing. Construction-cost increases, however, matched selling-price increases.

Labour shortages signalled a record level of construction activity, with institutional mega-projects competing with residential construction for skilled trades people.

The pace of sales rivalled, or beat, record years for both new-home product and for re-sale product. The value of new building permits issued topped previous records. New neighbourhoods emerged and old ones were re-born.

If it looks to you like urban re-development in Vancouver’s downtown and growth in the surrounding suburbs has radically changed the region, just take a look at things a year from now.

You might have thought that 2006 was a landmark year for real estate development, but it is the upcoming year that will be the one of real transformation in terms of the look and the livability of Vancouver — the period of visible change.

Many newsworthy achievements in real estate development over the past year were centred on large-project launches, massive pre-construction sales campaigns, construction groundbreakings, project approvals. They were the mere smoke signals of the change yet to come.

The construction cranes dotting the skyline are like giant pushpins on a huge map of Greater Vancouver, marking the spots where new development is about to change entire blocks and begin reshaping whole neighbourhoods.

Some projects are far enough along that they are already visible form-makers for the kind of change that is rapidly moving from Vancouver’s downtown out through the first-ring suburban areas into the distant suburbs.

For already visible signs of transformation in these suburban areas, one only needs to look at Kingsway and Knight Street, the upper-reaches of False Creek south around Cambie and Eighth Avenue, the quiet reshaping of the South Granville neighbourhood, 10th Avenue in West Point Grey, Coquitlam town centre, Richmond’s town centre, the top of Burnaby Mountain, the campus at UBC and a few other neighbourhoods where change is underway.

Wait, though, for the construction to come out of the ground on projects like the Woodward’s block in the downtown eastside, the Olympic Village on the south shore of False Creek, the explosion of mid-rise towers in downtown Richmond and further densification around most SkyTrain stations in Burnaby, stretching all the way out to Coquitlam. These areas will be reshaped over the next year by projects already approved and largely sold to new-home buyers or pre-leased to retail operators.

The next year will also be a year during which final touches will be put on the detailed plans that will launch the reshaping of the southeast corner of Vancouver at Parklane/WesGroup’s East Fraserlands site, Wesbild’s Burke Mountain holdings, Surrey’s city centre and the transformation of the aging Cambie West neighbourhood adjacent to Richmond’s existing downtown.

The Canada Line is quickly coming together like a giant rope tied together with various sections that will form a tight spine along which we will see planning take shape during 2007 for significant redevelopment at Oakridge and the south foot of Cambie Street along the Fraser River.

These projects represent a new approach to development in our region. A year from now, construction cranes will still dot the skyline, but much will be different and better thanks to the visionary decision-making, thoughtful planning, vigorous public debate, creative design and entrepreneurial risk-taking that has taken place over the past year.

Bob Ransford is a public affairs consultant with COUNTERPOINT Communications Inc. He is a former real estate developer who specializes in urban land use issues. E-mail: [email protected]

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

 

Need help getting your new tech toys to work?

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

Michelle Kessler
USA Today

The eggnog is gone, gifts unwrapped. And all across the USA, people are desperately trying to figure out how to get their brand-new electronic devices to do what they’re supposed to do.

USA TODAY is here to help. Reporter Michelle Kessler solicited guidance from seasoned Best Buy Geek Squad agent Chris Barnes. Personal Technology columnist Edward C. Baig weighed in with his own advice. Here are tips and traps to help you get the most out of your newest toys, without having to shed tears on your owner’s manual, assuming the product even came with one.

Computers and home networking

Tips. PCs have long moved past letting you just process words, crunch numbers or surf the Web. Today’s machines often double as sophisticated home entertainment systems, some with built-in TV tuners. Consider hooking up a good pair of speakers to play digital music or connecting a TV to play digital video.

To best take advantage of all your new PC has to offer, you’ll want a speedy Internet connection (commonly through DSL or cable) and a wireless home network. Purchase a small box known as a router, which when coupled with the computer’s “Wi-Fi” capabilities, will let you surf throughout the house.

Transferring digital music or photo libraries from an old PC to a new one can be difficult because the files can be large. Instead of burning hundreds of CDs, consider purchasing a universal serial bus (USB) drive. They’re simple, reusable, and 1 gigabyte models can be found for less than $40, though they won’t hold much data. Just plug the USB drive into one computer, copy files, then plug the gizmo into the new machine.

If you’re moving a lot of files and programs from an older computer, consider a PC migration program such as PCMover from Laplink.

Traps. Not all programs can be transferred from one machine to another. You may have to download — and pay for — new versions. Some new PCs come with trial versions of software that expire after a few months unless you pay an extra fee. Evaluate these choices carefully, since it may be cheaper to shop around. But make sure you always have up-to-date anti-virus, firewall and anti-spyware protection. Computers without them are vulnerable.

Installing a home network can get technical, so you may seek help from a tech-savvy neighbor. Most important, make sure to turn on wireless security settings to prevent your system from being hacked. Such settings may or may not be turned on by default.

Digital music players

Tips. Popular iPods and other MP3 players do a lot more than just play music. Many can display pictures and, in some cases, play movies. And most can also store other types of computer files. Use your player to transport and store text documents, photos, PowerPoint presentations, contacts and other files.

For an iPod, choose “enable disk use” from Preferences menus found in iTunes software on a PC or Mac.

It’s great to own your own music. But many non-iPod users are satisfied “renting” songs under subscription models offered by Napster, Yahoo, Rhapsody and others. You can listen whenever you want on a PC and in some cases on a portable player.

Traps. Many players only work with certain types of music formats and online stores. For instance, the iPod is designed to work with your own music ripped from CDs, and with songs purchased from Apple’s own iTunes Store.

It will not work with songs downloaded directly from Yahoo, Napster and Rhapsody.

Before buying songs online, make sure the tunes’ formatting is compatible with the portable device you own.

If you are listening to music as part of an online subscription, remember you will only have access to tunes you do not buy as long as you remain a paying customer, and connect your portable device at least once a month.

Televisions and digital video recorders

Tips. Many new televisions are designed to double as computer monitors. Some can even connect wirelessly to a nearby PC.

Digital video recorders (DVRs) from TiVo and others let you record programs on your schedule, not the networks’. Among their tricks, they can let you schedule recordings remotely over the Internet to bail you out if you forgot to record the football game before leaving the house. Some TiVos also let you watch recorded shows on PCs, iPods, Treos, PlayStation Portables and other devices. Or you can burn shows to DVD.

Traps. Hopefully, the digital TV you received can display high-definition, because not all so-called digital televisions are actually HDTVs. Moreover, to reap the benefits of an HDTV, you need to be watching programs that are broadcast or recorded in HD. An increasing number of prime-time programs, sports events and movies are shown in HD and delivered via cable or satellite providers or “over the air” through an antenna. Some programs broadcast in regular or “standard definition” may not look so hot when you watch them on a new TV.

Conventional DVDs typically look very good on modern TVs, though they, too, fall short of full high-definition. But the rival next-generation DVDs that do display HD, either Blu-ray or HD DVD, are incompatible with each other. Rather than betting on one format or the other, let the marketplace sort things out before purchasing a pricey high-definition DVD player to go with your new TV.

Video game systems

Tips. Souped-up video game systems such as the new Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s year-old Xbox 360 deliver snazzy and realistic graphics. But the latest game consoles also pile on multimedia features. You get to compete with other players over the Internet, view slide shows and in some cases play high-definition DVDs.

Nintendo’s Wii has relatively primitive graphics and won’t play next-generation DVDs. But grab the motion-sensitive controller and swing it like a baseball bat, tennis racquet or whatever the game demands. You’ll have a blast and get a real workout.

Traps. Game consoles are plenty pricey. But be prepared to shell out a lot more loot for the games that play on them. And to get the most out of Xbox or PS3, you’ll want to connect them to an HDTV, perhaps an added expense.

The Xbox 360 system can connect to so-called Media Center PCs, which would let you play music and pull other content off those computers. Be prepared to tweak settings that can be tricky for non-technical users.

Through an add-in, Xbox can play back HD DVD discs but not Blu-ray. On the other hand, Sony’s PS3 can handle Blu-ray discs but not HD DVD.

If playing Wii, hang on tight to the controller, lest if fly off and hurt a bystander. Meanwhile, Nintendo will replace the original wrist strap for a newer, presumably safer version.

Digital cameras

Tips. Digital cameras may come with a couple of cables that can be used to connect to a PC, though USB is typically the standard. If your PC has slots for memory cards, you may not need to connect a cable at all; just insert the memory card which stores the captured images.

A few digital models from Canon, Kodak and Nikon let you wirelessly e-mail pictures directly from the camera via a Wi-Fi hot spot.

Traps. Photo-editing software can run slowly on older PCs, and video-editing software may not work at all. Check system requirements before installing. If the programs don’t work well, consider adding more memory to your PC — or buying a new one.

The photo software packaged with digital cameras is typically mediocre. Fortunately, better — and free — options are available, notably Google’s fine Picasa program, which you can download for Windows machines, and Apple’s iPhoto, included on all new Macs.

Camera makers haven’t standardized a memory card format, which is why you’ll see Secure Digital, CompactFlash, xD, Memory Stick and other types of cards. If your new digital camera is replacing an older one based on a different format, you have a few options. You can trade the camera in for a model based on the same memory format. You can buy an inexpensive USB card reader to handle different formats on a computer. Or you can stick with what you have, relieved that the price of storage continues to fall.

When nothing you do seems to work

Ready to throw up your hands over a tangle of cords or installation discs? Sometimes it’s best to:

Start over.

A small mistake in Step 2 of a tech project can cause big problems in Step 20. Most computer programs can easily be uninstalled, and electronic gadgets rebooted. But be aware that any saved information may be lost.

In many cases, you may have to physically turn off all connected devices — even ones that don’t seem to have a problem — to clear out the memory and start the process over.

Read the manual.

And search Internet message boards for help. Chances are someone out there has had the same problem.

Call for help.

Most large electronics manufacturers have toll-free phone numbers for consumers with problems. In some cases, you’ll have to pay for the call and/or tech support.

If the problem is more complex, such as getting several devices to communicate with one another, consider paying for a technical specialist.

Best Buy’s Geek Squad will run diagnostic tests on a PC for $69 in-store or will come to a home or office for $159.

CompUSA and many local companies offer similar services.

 

Existing home sales edge up in November as prices fall

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

USA Today

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sales of existing homes managed to eke out a small increase in November, but the price of homes sold fell for a record fourth consecutive month, a real estate trade group reported Thursday.

The National Association of Realtors reported that sales of previously owned homes rose 0.6% in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.28 million units. That followed a 0.5% sales increase in October and marked the first back-to-back sales gains since the spring of 2005.

The slight increases in sales were not enough to halt a slide in home prices. The median price for an existing home sold in November dropped to $218,000, down 3.1% from the price a year ago. It was the first time on record that sales prices compared to a year ago have fallen for four straight months.

The report on existing home sales offered further hope that the serious slump in housing may be bottoming out.

It followed a report Wednesday that showed that new-home sales rose 3.4% in November, the third gain in the past four months.

David Lereah, chief economist for the Realtors, said he believes that September’s sales activity may represent the low point for sales this cycle, but he cautioned that home prices would probably continue declining for a few more months.

By region of the country, sales were down 1.6% in the South and they were unchanged in the Midwest. However, the Northeast posted a strong 6% sales gain and the West saw sales rise 0.8%.

The housing industry has been in a severe slump this year after posting five consecutive years of record sales of both new and existing homes.

Lereah said he believes sales of existing homes would fall 9% this year and post a drop of 1% in 2007 as the markets undergo a correction following what many economists believe was a real estate speculative bubble.

“We’ve entered a more sustainable period of home sales now and we expect greater support for prices over time as inventory levels are eventually drawn down,” Lereah said.

The inventory of homes for sale was down 1% at the end of November to 3.82 million units.

He predicted price declines would continue in December and probably for the early part of 2007. He said these were necessary adjustments that were luring buyers back into the market.

Restaurant listings for December 28, 2006

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

Mia Stainsby
Sun

A list of restaurants recommended and anonymously visited by Sun restaurant critic Mia Stainsby. Prices are per couple for three courses, with a glass of wine each, before tip and taxes.

$ means $50 or less

$$ means $50 to $100

$$$ means more than $100

- – -

WEST COAST

Aurora Bistro The first fine dining room on Main St. Inventive food, hip spot. 2420 Main St., 604-873-9944. $$

Bishop’s Consistently one of the city’s best. Almost 100 per cent organic foods. 2183 West Fourth Ave., 604-738-2025. $$$

Bin 941 Tapas bar in tiny eclectic space. 941 Davie St., 604-683-1246. $$/$$$

Bin 942 Creative, delectable tapas dishes. 1521 West Broadway, 604-734-9421. $$/$$$ Bridges For fine dining, head upstairs, and for casual, try the downstairs bistro. 1696 Duranleau, 604-687-4400. $$/$$$

Brix Large tapas selection, 60 wines by the glass. 1138 Homer St., 604-915-9463. $$/$$$

Crave Divine comfort food with elegant touches. 3941 Main St., 604-872-3663. $$

Cru Blurs the lines of fine dining, lounge and bistro. Lovely “small plates” or a four-course prix fixe. 1459 West Broadway, 604-677-4111. $$

Feenie’s Comfort food with a modern tweak and quality ingredients. 2563 West Broadway, 604-739-7115. $/$$

Glowbal Grill and Satay Bar Hip, happening destination. Creative chef. 1079 Mainland St., 604-602-0835. $$

Lucy Mae Brown Intimate space, assertive dishes. 862 Richards St., 604-899-9199. $$

Lumiere Tasting Bar The casual sidekick to famous sibling, Lumiere, next door. 2551 West Broadway, 604-739-8185. $$/$$$

Nu A sophisticated version of casual dining. Beautiful flavours, great atmosphere. 1661 Granville St., 604-646-4668. $$

Parkside Handsome room in residential West End, richly flavoured food. Great spot. 1906 Haro, 604-683-6912. $$/$$$

Raincity Grill A Vancouver moment by English Bay. Regional food. 1193 Denman St., 604-685-7337. $$$

Rare An impressive, unique menu. There’s passion here. 1355 Hornby St., 604-669-1256. $$$

Salt Tasting Room Inspired charcuterie style food with wine pairings. Edgey surrounding. 45 Blood Alley, 604-633-1912. $$

West Vies for best restaurant in the city. 2881 Granville St., 604-738-8938. $$$

ITALIAN

Amarcord Food from the Bologna and Emilia Romagna area of Italy, elegantly presented. Clear, natural flavours. 1168 Hamilton St., 604-681-6500. $$

CinCin Restaurant and Bar Seasonal menu with wood-fired dishes. Notable desserts. 1154 Robson St., 604-688-7338. $$/$$$

Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill Fine Italian cuisine with a light touch. 1133 Hamilton St., 604-688-7466. $$$

Don Francesco Ristorante Romantic, classic Italian restaurant with heart. 860 Burrard St., 604-685-7770. $$$ Quattro on Fourth An Italian restaurant with flair. 2611 West Fourth Ave., 604-734-4444. $$/$$$

CHINESE

Hon’s Wun-Tun House Slurp noodles and chomp on delicious potstickers. Huge menu. 1339 Robson St., 604-685-0871. $

Kirin Seafood Exquisite Cantonese food. City Square, 555 West 12th Ave., 604-879-8038. $$$

Pink Pearl It’s been around forever and is still a going concern. 1132 East Hastings St., 604-253-4316. $

Sun Sui Wah Cantonese cuisine with light, finely tuned flavours. 3888 Main St., 604-872-8822. $$

Wild Rice Modern Chinese food in a sophisticated, hip setting. 117 West Pender St., 604-642-2882. $$

JAPANESE

Bistro Sakana Exciting Japanese food with French and Italian curve balls. 1123 Mainland St., 604-633-1280. $$

Chopstick Cafe/Shiru-Bay Great atmosphere, intriguing izakaya food, budget prices. 1193 Hamilton St., 604-408-9315. $$

Gyoza King Gyozas reign supreme. Open late. 1508 Robson St., 604-669-8278. $

Hapa Izakaya Young and stylish; great izakaya-style Japanese food. 1479 Robson St., 604-689-4272. $/$$

Tojo’s Restaurant The topper in this category. Japanese food at its best. 202 — 777 West Broadway, 604-872-8050. $$$

Yuji’s Expect the unexpected. Food takes some creative turns. 2059 West Fourth Ave., 604-734-4990. $$

Zest Japanese Cuisine Grazing style modern Japanese menu in cool modern room. 2775 West 16th Ave., 604-731-9378. $$

FRENCH/BELGIAN

Bacchus Restaurant Some classics, some nouveau. Expect the best. Wedgewood Hotel, 845 Hornby St., 604-689-7777. $$$

Cassis Bistro Low budget but mod interior. Delicious traditional French bistro fare. Good value. 420 West Pender St., 604-605-0420. $$

Chambar Modern Belgian food. Hot hipster scene. Chef has cooked in a three-star Michelin restaurant. 562 Beatty St., 604-879-7119. $$

Elixir French brasserie in Yaletown; bistro food, haute quality. 322 Davie St., 604-642-0557. $$/$$$

Lumiere Chef Rob Feenie redefines restaurants in Vancouver. Tasting menus. 2551 West Broadway, 604-739-8185. $$$

Mistral Authentic Provencal food cooked by former Michelin chef. 2585 West Broadway, 604-733-0046. $$

Pastis French bistro with a lightness of being. 2153 West Fourth Ave., 604-731-5020. $$/$$$

Salade de Fruits Very good value French country bistro. 1551 West Seventh, 604-714-5987. $$

GREEK

Apollonia Well-prepared Greek food and very good pizzas. 1830 Fir St., 604-736-9559. $/$$

The Main Friendly, funky spot. Wonderful roast lamb. 4210 Main St., 604-709-8555. $$

Stepho’s Nightly lineups because of low prices. 1124 Davie St., 604-683-2555. $

INDIAN

Akbar’s Own Mogul-style Indian cuisine. 1905 West Broadway, 604-736-8180. $$

Maurya Fine Indian food in glam surroundings. 1643 West Broadway, 604-742-0622. $$$

Rangoli Vij’s casual and take-out next-door sidekick. Impressive. 1488 West 11th Ave., 604-736-5711. $

Vij’s Dishes are a symphony of wondrous flavours. 1480 West 11th Ave., 604-736-6664. $$

SOUTHEAST ASIAN

Banana Leaf Homestyle Malaysian food. 820 West Broadway, 604-731-6333 and 1096 Denman St., 604-683-3333. $$

Monsoon An “East-West” brasserie with tropical Asian dishes, loads of atmosphere. 2526 Main St., 604-879-4001. $$

Montri Thai Restaurant Some of the best Thai food in the city. 3629 West Broadway, 604-738-9888. $$

Sanafir Pan-Asian and Mediterranean flavours in a trio of dishes. Innovative. 1026 Granville St., 604-678-1049. $$/$$$

Simply Thai On the A-list for Thai food. 1211 Hamilton St., 604-642-0123. $$

SEAFOOD

Bluewater Cafe and Raw Bar Handsome spot. Impressive seafood, impressive wine list. 1095 Hamilton St., 604-688-8078. $$$

C Chef Robert Clark takes seafood to a new level. 1600 Howe St., 604-681-1164. $$$

Cannery Seafood Fine dining in rustic nautical decor on working waterfront. 2205 Commissioner St., 604-254-9606 $$$

Fish House in Stanley Park Bold and imaginative seafood dishes by the creative Karen Barnaby. 8901 Stanley Park Dr., 604-681-7275. $$$

Joe Fortes Seafood and Chop House Fresh shucked oysters, cedar plank salmon, grilled chops. High energy. 777 Thurlow St., 604-669-1940. $$$

VEGETARIAN

The Naam Wide variety of vegetarian fare. Quiet patio in summer. 2724 West Fourth Ave., 604-738-7151. $

LATIN AMERICA

Century Restaurant and Bar Modern Latin food, the best in town. Great space. 432 Richards St., 604-687-1280. $$/$$$

Havana Cuban food, tweaked for Commercial Drive. 1212 Commercial Dr., 604-253-9119. $

Lolita’s South of the Border Cantina Casual Mexican food with sparkle. Lots of buzz in the room. 1326 Davie St., 604-696-9996. $$

MEDITERRANEAN

Provence Mediterranean Grill The menu is a marriage of French and Italian. Lovely flavours. 4473 West 10th Ave., 604-222-1980 and 1177 Marinaside Cres., 604-681-4144. $$

NORTH SHORE

Beach House at Dundarave Pier Spectacular setting for brunch by Dundarave Beach. West Coast cuisine. 150 25th St., West Van, 604-922-1414. $$$

Gusto Di Quattro Cosy, warm. Italian food. 1 Lonsdale Ave., North Van, 604-924-4444 . $$/$$$

La Regalade A truly, deeply French bistro. Wonderful atmosphere. 2232 Marine Dr., West Van, 604-921-2228. $$/$$$

La Regalade Cote Mer Shares the same genes at La Regalade in Ambleside but with emphasis on seafood. 5775 Marine Dr., West Vancouver, 604-921-9701. $$$

Ocean Club Chic Yaletown-style lounge and restaurant. Food is imaginative and yummy. 100 Park Royal South, West Van, 604-926-2326. $$

Saltaire Gorgeous roof patio. Good value West Coast food. 2nd floor – 235 15th St., West Van, 604-913-8439. $$

Zen Japanese Restaurant Creative kitchen, quality ingredients. Good sake list. 2232 Marine Dr., West Van, 604-925-0667. $$/$$$

BURNABY/NEW WESTMINSTER

Anton’s Gargantuan portions of pasta. No reservations. 4260 Hastings St., Burnaby, 604-299-6636. $$

The Hart House In Tudor mansion. Exacting West Coast fare. 6664 Deer Lake Ave., Burnaby, 604-298-4278. $$$

Pear Tree Small menu, sublime continental food. 4120 Hastings St., Burnaby, 604-299-2772. $$$

Taverna Greka Greek cuisine. View of Fraser River. 326 Columbia, New Westminster, 604-526-6651. $$

Vassili Souvlaki Greek Taverna Traditional Greek foods with no reticence when it comes to portions. 6558 Kingsway, Burnaby, 604-434-0626. $$

COQUITLAM, POCO, PORT MOODY

Joey Tomato’s Mediterranean Grill Casual family retaurant. 550 Lougheed Hwy., Coquitlam, 604-939-3077

Pasta Polo Organic wheat pastas, pizzas. Family restaurant. 2754 Barnet Highway, Coquitlam, 604-464-7656. $/$$

RICHMOND

The Flying Beaver Bar Funky bar overlooking the Fraser River. 4760 Inglis Dr., Richmond, 604-273-0278. $/$$

Globe at YVR Impressive food, sleek contemporary decor with view of U.S. arrivals terminal. Fairmont Hotel, Vancouver Airport, Richmond, 604-248-3281. $$$

Shanghai River Shanghai style cuisine. Dumplings and noodles made in open kitchen. 7831 Westminster Highway, 604-233-8885. $$

Shiang Garden Part of a successful Taiwanese restaurant chain. Impressive seafood. 2200 — 4540 No. 3 Rd., Richmond, 604-273-8858. $$

Sun Sui Wah Impressive way with seafood. 4940 No. 3 Rd., Richmond, 604-273-8208. $$

Zen Fine Chinese Cuisine Multi-coursed tasting menus and personalized dinners. Excellent. 2015 — 8580 Alexandra Rd., Richmond, 604-233-0077. $$$

SURREY, WHITE ROCK, DELTA, TSAWWASSEN

Giraffe Charming place, eclectic West Coast menu. 15053 Marine Dr., White Rock, 604-538-6878. $$/$$$

La Belle Auberge In a heritage house in Ladner. Sublime French food. 4856 48th Ave., Ladner, 604-946-7717. $$$

Pearl on the Rock Modern Pacific Northwest cuisine with emphasis on seafood. Delicious fare. 14955 Marine Dr., White rock. 604-542-1064. $$$

SQUAMISH AND WHISTLER

Apres Quiet and intimate. Refined regional cuisine. 4338 Main St., Whistler, 604-935-0220. $$$

Araxi Restaurant & Bar Handsome Tuscan looks, regional cuisine. Outstanding wine list. 4222 Village Square, Whistler, 604-932-4540. $$/$$$

Fifty Two 80 Bistro Every dish a ‘wow’. Gorgeous room. Four Seasons Hotel, 4591 Blackcomb Way, Whistler, 604-935-3400. $$$

Quattro at Whistler Contemporary Italian cuisine. 4319 Main St., Whistler, 604-905-4844. $$/$$$

Trattoria di Umberto Tucked away from the throngs but always packed.Lovely affordable Italian food. 4417 Sundial Place, 604-932-5858. $$/$$$

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

 

A cosy spot for a lazy Sunday

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

Angelina’s is a perfect little neighbourhood spot to while away time with a newspaper

Mia Stainsby
Sun

Angela Mitchener talks with a customer at Angelina’s — a cheerful cafe tucked away in a North Vancouver courtyard. Photograph by : Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun

‘I wanted a cute little cafe. A place where I call all the shots,” says Angela Mitchener, who, yes indeed, owns a cute little cafe. And calls the shots.

Apropos at this heavenly time of year, it’s called Angelina’s, a stretchy version of her own name. The bright, cheerful place is a perfect little neighbourhood spot for the condo dwellers nearby, but I’m not sure all dwellers would know of the place, tucked away in the courtyard of a new development, insulated from the street and traffic. It’s a cozy spot for a lazy Sunday morning with newspapers or friends.

Mitchener has a breakfast and lunch menu every day and just recently, she started up a limited dinner menu that runs on Friday and Saturday evenings for $25 — a pretty good price.

Breakfasts include in-house baking, french toast, and scrambled eggs with English muffins. Lack of proper ventilation prevents the kitchen from cooking proteins stovetop so eggs are scrambled a la microwave. The vanilla pear ginger muffin is a hit, as is the oatmeal butterscotch cookies and blueberry crumble cake. For lunch, there are selections of panini, quiche, lasagne and soups.

For dinner, dishes have so far included roasted tomato tart, stuffed pork tenderloin, gouda fondu with apples, butternut squash cannelloni, and lemon cheesecake with lemon coulis. And because of the limited stovetop use, most dishes are cooked in the oven.

Mitchener has been in the biz for some 20 years in one form or other, including part owner of Zen Japanese restaurant in West Vancouver.

- – -

ANGELINA’S CAFE

210 — 150 West Esplanade. North Vancouver. 604-983-9094. Open seven days a week; set menu dinners on

Friday and Saturday.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

 

Valley eatery a diner’s treat

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

The food at restaurant 62 in Abbotsford is about as tasty as it gets; the service shines too

Mia Thomas
Sun

‘Sip, sample, savour” is the motto of restaurant 62, which is establishing itself in the Fraser Valley fine dining scene.

The meals on a recent visit were fully deserving of the reputation this Abbotsford eatery is generating.

I settled on the sweet potato and poached pear soup with blue cheese and crushed walnuts. They had me at the pear, but the blue cheese and walnuts sealed the deal. It was perfect warmth and comfort for a blustery winter night; absolutely delicious and totally smooth, creamy without being too thick or rich.

My companion ordered Pailliote de Chevre, an aged goat’s cheese salad with roasted portabella mushroom, artichoke heart, marinated red peppers, and maple and sherry caramel.

It wasn’t a traditional salad of greens — the cheese was the main attraction in this dish, a thick slice served warm on thin toast. The other flavours combined for another soul-warming taste experience.

For the main dish, my companion ordered Fire-Grilled Chicken Gargenelli in a fresh basil cream sauce with roasted mushrooms and parmesan cheese.

We weren’t familiar with the pasta, but gargenelli turned out to be tubes, similar to penne in shape but smaller, thinner and cut at a different angle.

The “thinner” quality was what made the difference here, since both of us find penne too thick, but gargenelli was quite enjoyable with the sauce. The free-range chicken was tender and very nicely spiced.

I ordered the pan-seared mahi mahi filet, served on a crisp basmati rice cake with a citrus cream sauce. It turned out to be a dish that suited my personal preferences to a tee.

The fish was herbed just enough to flavour without overpowering its own delicate taste and cooked to a nice flakiness. The sauce was wonderfully tangy and the rice cake a creamy surprise inside the crunchy exterior.

The vegetables served alongside — zucchini, asparagus and green beans — were cooked to a slight tenderness but maintained some of their crispiness.

After a meal like that, we had to try the desserts.

Once again lured by one of my favourite fruits, the pineau des charentes cheesecake with an amaretti crust and poached pears was an easy choice. Served on swirls of raspberry coulis, it was deliciously creamy, with the touch of texture found in a good cheesecake.

My companion ordered the molten centre callebaut chocolate cake, served with espresso creme anglaise.

The warm explosion of sweetness that arrived — also presented on raspberry swirls — was essentially that delightful creation lava cake, but made with quality chocolate.

As a dining experience, restaurant 62 is a treat.

The decor is elegantly sophisticated yet comfortably relaxed. Good use is made of the space; it’s intimate without feeling crowded, with only 62 seats, giving the restaurant its name.

Service is friendly, fast and attentive, not overdone.

Eric Ferris opened the restaurant in Abbotsford’s Gateway Building after a number of years in the food industry that had ranged from Tofino’s Wickaninnish Inn to the Metropolitan Hotel in Calgary, before he returned to his roots in the Valley.

He’s where he wants to be now, closer to the source of many of his ingredients where farm-gate shopping is a feasible option.

“We really try and purchase as much as we can locally,” Ferris said, adding it’s a work in progress since year-round produce is still limited.

- – -

RESTAURANT 62

106 – 2001 McCallum Rd., Abbotsford. Open for lunch Monday to Friday, from 11:30 a.m., and for dinner Monday to Saturday, from 5 p.m. Call 604-855-3545 or visit www.restaurant62.ca for more information.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

Fine fresh fish comes with side of good karma

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

A combination fish shop and bistro sells delicious seafood caught by methods designed to sustain stocks

Mia Stainsby
Sun

Jordan McLean shows off the fish and chips available at Finest at Sea. Photograph by : Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun

December is a sneak thief, rifling our wallets and leaving us change. Well, you know what? Go nuts. Spend that change. A good place is at Finest At Sea, a seafood shop/bistro/deli for a casual but quality feed.

First of all, the seafood comes under Ocean Wise, the do-good program to serve sustainable seafood. And secondly, the shop has its own fishing fleet, with 11 boats that use traps and hooks (no dragging, no nets). In fact, the company sells seafood to 40 other restaurants in town, including ones which are fanatic about freshness, like Tojo’s and West.

One of the proponents behind this west-side venture (just over a month old) is Bruno Born, a Vancouver restaurant veteran who’s operated restaurants since the early 1980s. Under his belt: The Chef And The Carpenter, Bruno’s, Coq d’Or, Zeppos, Indigo (at Wall Centre), and most recently, Sausi’s, which closed over a year ago.

He and his brother-in-law Ian Angus run the storefront while another partner, Bob Fraumeni, oversees the fishing end of things.

Finest At Sea isn’t exactly a looker; it’s a fish shop with a few tables and off to one side, an open kitchen and a menu board. There’s a kink in ordering that seemed to confuse many of us. You go to the back of the store, put in your order, go back to the front and wait for the order to come up. A group of four guests sat at a table waiting for service before finally realizing what that line-up at the back was about, then grumbled about having to wait yet again.

But I was very happy with the food. The bistro menu reflects what’s in season. The clam chowder is a gridlock of Queen Charlotte razor clams and should not be missed; the seafood bisque starts with stock made from roasted halibut bones and pureed vegetables thicken the soup.

I don’t do fish and chips unless there’s a delicious pay-off for the gazillion calories. Here, there is. The sablefish, bundled inside the crisp, bronzed batter was lovely. The chips aren’t fabulous, but they are tasty. You can get salmon, halibut and ling cod fish and chips. Single fish portions are $6 to $10 and doubles are $9 to $15.

Soups are $4, small plates (crabcakes, mussels) are $10 and grilled fish dishes are about $13.

I sampled the crab cakes (generously crabby), a spice-rubbed sockeye salmon with Caesar salad and polenta crusted halibut (great quality but slightly overcooked). There’s no dessert menu and as yet, no wine to enhance the lovely fish. Dug-in carnivores won’t find any red meat here.

If you’re on the run, look to the deli case which has a lineup of take-home dishes — salads, cooked veggies, swiss chard terrine, and some seafood dishes.

At the back of the room, reality TV takes you aboard some their fishing vessels as they bring in tuna, halibut, sablefish and black cod — a little girl sat mesmerized watching, immune to her dad’s call to come join him for fish and chips.

- – -

FINEST AT SEA

Overall: Rating 3 1/2

Food: Rating 3 1/2

Ambience: Rating 3

Service: Rating 3

Price $

4675 Arbutus St., 604-266-1904.

Open 7 days a week, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Restaurant visits are conducted anonymously and interviews are done by phone. Restaurants are rated out of five stars.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

 

U.S. home sales surprise buoys American markets

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

Gold stocks soar as U.S. dollar falls on word one oil-rich Gulf state will convert some reserves

Gregory Thomas
Sun

U.S. markets moved further into record territory Wednesday on surprisingly steady November new home sales, while strength in gold stocks paced Canadian markets to triple-digit gains.

The U.S. Commerce Department said new home sales climbed 3.4 per cent in November to an annual rate of 1.047 million, while the median price of a new home climbed 5.8 per cent.

The Dow Jones Industrial average added 102.94 points, or 0.8 per cent, to close at a new record high of 12.510.57. The S&P 500 gained 9.94, or 0.7 per cent, to 1,426.84. The Nasdaq composite climbed 17.71 or 0.7 per cent, to 2,431.22.

The S&P homebuilders group climbed 1.9 per cent, the most in three weeks. The biggest gainer, Ryland, added $1.82 to $54.35 US. Home Depot climbed 50 cents to $39.56 US. Sherwin-Williams rose $1.81 to $64.37 US.

But even as traders toasted the potential for a recovery in the housing market, the number of vacant, completed homes climbed to a new record of 169,000, up 51 per cent from a year earlier. And a weekly index of U.S. mortgage lending activity fell for the second week in a row.

In Canada, gold stocks led a broad rally after the oil-rich United Arab Emirates announced it will convert some of its currency reserves from the U.S. dollar into euros. The news sent the greenback to its steepest losses in a week. February gold climbed $3.40, or 0.5 per cent, to $630.30 US an ounce. Goldcorp gained $1.27 to $32.73. Barrick climbed $1.13 to $35.49.

The S&P/TSX Composite Index advanced 134.42 points, or 1.1 per cent, to 12,852.59 for its biggest gain in nearly a month. The S&P/TSX Venture composite gained 59.22, or 2.07 per cent, to 2,915.86.

Unseasonably warm weather in the U.S. Northeast continues to make this winter a tough one for Canadian natural gas producers. Temperatures east of the Rocky Mountains are expected to be as high as 13 degrees Celsius above normal through Dec. 31. Next-day gas at Duke Energy’s Huntingdon tolling station in Abbotsford fell 30 cents, or 4.9 per cent, to $5.85 US per million Btu. In New York, February crude dropped 76 cents, or 1.2 per cent, to $60.34 US a barrel, the lowest close since Nov. 27.

The Canadian dollar closed down 0.21 cents at 86.12 US cents after trading below the 86-cent level.

Gregory Thomas is an investment adviser and Certified Financial Planner. His market commentary is broadcast on all-news radio News1130. Views expressed are the author’s alone, and not necessarily those of his employer, BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc., member CIPF. Tel: 604-631-2693.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

 

Slumping U.S. housing market could herald a recession

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

Jay Bryan
Sun

There have been lots of headlines across North America recently about signs that the U.S. housing bubble is not just leaking air, but could be collapsing.

That’s worrisome, but there’s a second chapter that is far more important. Indeed, those who focus only on the woes of homebuilders are missing the most important part of this story.

The story begins with the latest shock to emerge from this battered industry: The fact that home-construction activity, far from showing signs of levelling off as some analysts expected, plunged by an unexpectedly steep 14.6 per cent in October. That leaves housing starts at the lowest level in more than six years.

Already, housing has gnawed away painfully at the pace of U.S. economic growth, cutting it by nearly half during the third quarter, to a feeble 1.6 per cent. There will be a similar impact in the fourth quarter, many forecasters believe.

So far, the picture is sombre, but since the U.S. economy needs a breather to subdue inflationary pressures, it’s not alarming.

The alarming part is what could come next.

Home construction itself represents only about six per cent of U.S. economic activity, but if its hard landing infects the rest of the economy, look out.

That’s why Clement Gignac, chief economist at National Bank Financial, says the latest plunge in housing starts “supports my concern that we are headed for tough times next year.”

First, while homebuilders are only a small chunk of the economy, their hiring over the past five years represented a hefty 20 per cent of job creation in the U.S. When this job machine goes into reverse, as it will in the coming months, unemployment can be expected to rise, Gignac believes.

Those who comfort themselves by noting that U.S. job creation remains healthy might be forgetting something: That job losses are more likely to follow economic turning points than to precede them.

The latest drop in housing starts, for example, won’t show up in construction employment for another few months, because that’s how long it will take to complete the homes that were started in previous months. By early next year, Gignac expects to see big construction layoffs and a rising unemployment rate.

The next domino to watch is U.S. housing prices. Unlike the still-healthy Canadian real-estate market, housing prices in the U.S. have already slammed into reverse during the past year.

So far, they’re only down about two per cent, which may not sound like much. But when you’ve grown accustomed to the previous year’s 13-per-cent gain, it’s a huge change.

Economists express this by pointing to what they call the “real” mortgage rate for a homebuyer. That’s the rate your payments are based on, maybe six or seven per cent, adjusted for the pace at which your home’s value is changing.

In Canada, healthy price gains mean that even after paying interest on a mortgage, a typical homeowner made a “profit” over the past year, notes Ted Carmichael, chief Canadian economist at J.P. Morgan Securities. In effect, the rising home value more than paid the mortgage interest.

In the U.S., with its rapid price gains, this happy situation was true for the past several years. But no more. Today, falling home values make the real mortgage rate even higher than the one you signed on for.

Gignac predicts that the house-price domino will fall if price declines in the U.S. worsen to as much as 10 per cent annually.

If this happened, it would signal a serious erosion of homeowners’ financial position, almost certainly bringing a sharp cutback in consumer spending. The likely outcome: A recession.

That’s not the unanimous view, by any means. At J.P. Morgan, the forecast is for a slowdown in growth, but no recession, partly because the housing collapse is expected to end after maybe six months.

Gignac’s prediction is that there are so many excess homes on the market after years of overbuilding and speculative buying that it will take about two years to wring out the excesses, meaning a long, significant economic slowdown even if there’s no recession.

We should know which view is closer to reality within the next few months, and one early hint will be how well Christmas sales have held up.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

 

Portable players take squinting out of watching iPod videos

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

Edward C. Baig
USA Today

The iFlip Mi8000

The new iPod you just got for the holidays does a lot more than play music. Its video quality is perfectly acceptable for music videos, podcasts and TV shows. But film junkies crave more than the iPod’s 2½-inch display can deliver.

I’ve been testing three portable accessories that let you watch iPod videos without squinting. The Sonic Impact Video-55 and jWin iLuv i1055 can play iPod video through their 7-inch displays. The Memorex iFlip has an 8.4-inch screen.

Such screen sizes are more common on portable DVD players. The iLuv doubles as a DVD player, though it fails to measure up to rivals in picture and sound quality or design.

In fact, none of these $200-$300 players, which can often be found for less than their list prices, blew me away. Still, they provide road warriors with decent alternatives to watching video on the iPod itself, provided you don’t mind schlepping these somewhat bulky players. After all, you may already be traveling with another video playback alternative: your laptop.

All three work with current 30-, 60- and 80-gigabyte video iPods. A closer look:

•Design and usability.

Because the thickness of the iPod varies between 30 GB and larger-capacity models, the video players rely on adapters or inserts to properly dock the iPod you are using.

The dimensions of the iFlip and Video-55 players are roughly comparable. Both are black, weigh about 2½ pounds and are about the size of a chunky hardcover book. The two fold shut like a laptop.

The Video-55′s few buttons surround the dock for your iPod making them easily accessible when you are watching videos. But I got off to an inauspicious start. I didn’t realize I had to insert an adapter inside the dock before sticking in my 30-GB iPod. The iPod got stuck, and I had to remove it with a butter knife.

Inserted properly, you have direct access to the iPod scroll wheel for changing videos, fast-forwarding, etc. But I ran into some trouble changing the volume via the Video-55′s own buttons on my test unit, an issue Sonic Impact says has since been resolved.

I also could have used a magnifying glass trying to read the tiny-type manual, though seeing the words didn’t necessary clear anything up. Sample: “After entering the MENU parameter-adjusting menu, the analog parameter on the screen will gradually decrease when the ‘-’ key is pressed.” Huh?

You insert the iPod on the iFlip by gently sliding it into one of its supplied adapters and then pushing the holder down until it clicks in place. It’s a bit awkward. Once docked, you again have easy access to the iPod’s scroll wheel. Volume and menu buttons are on the side of the iFlip, a slightly less-convenient location than the Video-55′s buttons.

The black iLuv is a tad heavier than the others and is thicker around the middle. That’s not surprising given the presence of a DVD player. The screen is exposed on the outside of the iLuv. It pops up to reveal the compartment where you insert a DVD. Buttons on the face of the unit control DVD functions and not the iPod.

Alas, the iPod itself docks on the bottom of the iLuv device. It’s covered by plastic, except for a circular hole that lets you control the scroll wheel. But each time you want to change videos on the iPod, you must flip the device upside down. Major hassle.

• Pictures and sound

The designs of the iFlip and Video-55 let you rest the players on a flat surface and tilt the screen to a proper viewing angle. But the iLuv uses a stand that makes it difficult to view the screen directly. Either way, iLuv has the poorest picture and sound.

There’s surely something to be said for having the largest screen, a boon for the iFlip. But I preferred Video-55′s picture by a little bit and sound by a mile.

• Battery

When plugged in, the three devices can charge your iPod. Though I didn’t run an independent battery test, iLuv claims battery life of about 2½ hours for iPod or DVD playback, which may not get you through a long flick. Sonic Impact says the Video-55′s playback is four to six hours for movies or 14 to 16 hours for audio alone. (The sound is good enough where you might use it to listen to music in a hotel room.) Meanwhile, despite having the largest screen, Memorex claims five-plus hours of battery life.

• Extras

The iLuv earns brownie points as the only product in this roundup to also play DVDs. It’s also the only one to come with stereo headphones. A carrying pouch, car adapter, car-seat strap, video cable and remote control are also included.

Sonic Impact’s player comes with a bag, car charger and remote.

The iFlip includes two headphone jacks for private listening with a friend (same as iLuv) but is otherwise chintzy with supplied accessories. There’s no remote. A carrying case is sold separately.

Someday soon, perhaps Apple will oblige video fans with a larger-screen iPod. Apple is characteristically closed-lipped about future product plans. Until it does, it’s nice to know there are decent video alternatives.