Archive for August, 2007

Federal Housing Adminstration to help refi at-risk loans

Friday, August 31st, 2007

Noelle Knox
USA Today

A sign showing a foreclosed house is seen in Glendale, Calif. Foreclosure filings rose 9% from June to July, a research firm said last Tuesday. The figure is the latest measure of the ailing housing market, which has seen defaults and foreclosures soar as financially strapped borrowers have failed to make payments or find buyers.

Some homeowners with risky “subprime” adjustable-rate mortgages will be able to refinance before they lose their home to foreclosure, with the help of steps President Bush will announce Friday, senior administration officials said Thursday night.

An estimated 80,000 homeowners with bruised credit and subprime ARMs they can no longer afford will be able to refinance loans, which the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) would insure.

The move marks a historic expansion of the role of the FHA, a Depression-era agency that has traditionally served low- and moderate-income families and first-time buyers, but not delinquent borrowers. Nearly 16% of subprime borrowers are behind on their ARMs, and an estimated 2 million subprime ARMs totaling about $600 billion will reset to higher rates through the end of next year.

To qualify for the new benefit, homeowners would have to prove they paid their loan on time before it reset to a higher rate and must have at least 3% equity in the home.

The program, which doesn’t need congressional approval, should take effect early next year.

Under current rules, the maximum loan the FHA can guarantee is $202,000 in most states and up to $362,000 in high-cost states such as California and New York.

The officials said Bush will also call on Congress to pass his proposal to reform the FHA, in part by raising those loan limits to $262,000 in most states and $417,000 in pricier areas. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak on the record.

Bush also wants the FHA to be able to help other risky borrowers, beyond the 80,000, by broadening its lending criteria. To compensate for the added risk that the borrowers might default, the FHA would charge them higher premiums on the loans. Also, he wants to eliminate the 3% down payment requirement, though borrowers would have to pay at least some of the closing costs to secure the loan.

The senior officials avoided using the word “bailout,” but the plan is sure to incite critics.

“If you’re going to help someone to refinance, you’re going to bail out the person who financed him in the first place,” Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute said Thursday night. “This will only cause the problem to arise again.”

Wallison said the lenders who provided the financing in many of these cases likely knew that the borrowers couldn’t meet the financial obligations of the loan.

“If we’re going to allow (lenders) to be refinanced out, what we’re doing is saving them from their own greed. … It might be good politics, but it’s very bad policy.”

In another bold step, Bush will propose a temporary change in tax law. It would let homeowners avoid taxes on forgiven debt if a lender agrees to alter the terms of a loan.

 

Strategy on housing and homelessness conflicted, confusing

Friday, August 31st, 2007

Harvey Enchin
Sun

Home for the homeless — under the south end of the Granville Street Bridge. Bureaucrats’ strategy fails to emphasize that homelessness is a public health matter, affordable housing an economic one. Photograph by : Peter Battistoni, Vancouver Sun

Metro Vancouver (a.k.a. the Greater Vancouver Regional District) has invited public comment on its draft regional affordable housing strategy, a dozen pages of bureaucratic bafflegab that purports to address the problems of homelessness and affordable housing.

It sets out three key goals: Increase the supply and diversity of modest-cost housing; eliminate homelessness across the region, and meet the needs of low-income renters.

These may sound like related issues to policy-makers, who seem able to lump anything and everything under the “sustainability” umbrella, but two of the goals (No. 1 and No. 3) are the same while two (No. 1 and No. 2) are quite distinct and require different approaches. Their inclusion in a single document confuses the causes and possible remedies the so-called strategy proposes.

What the strategy fails to emphasize is that homelessness is a public health matter, affordable housing an economic one. Yet the solution offered to cure the ills of both is wringing more tax dollars out of federal and provincial governments.

More than three-quarters of the homeless population has some sort of health problem, primarily mental illness and drug addiction. These people need treatment centres and supportive-living arrangements, not cheap accommodation. Projects such as Kindred Place – an 87-unit, $17.7-million supportive housing development under construction in downtown Vancouver – is an example of the collaborative initiatives that are needed to adequately address homelessness.

This is a joint effort by the provincial and federal governments, the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health and represents the kind of partnership of housing and health providers that will enable those coming out of detox to leave behind their addictions, develop independent living skills and become part of mainstream society.

Vancouver bears a disproportionate share of the burden of homelessness, which is clearly a regional problem. The strategy would do well to encourage other Lower Mainland municipalities to carry more of the load by supporting projects such as the Riverview re-development — that would create a treatment and residential facility for the mentally-ill and addicts — in Coquitlam.

The strategy acknowledges the need to overcome NIMBY (not in my backyard) opposition by some local politicians, and it recommends increased funding for 5,000 supportive and transitional housing units, not just in Vancouver, but across the region over the next 10 years.

Affordable housing is another matter entirely. Affordable is defined as housing that has a carrying cost or rent that does not exceed 30 per cent of household income. By this measure, the qualifying income to purchase the average single-family home in Greater Vancouver in 2005 was $121,921, more than double the median income. The average townhouse requires income of $80,748 and the average two-bedroom condominium $66,916. According to the RBC affordability index, 70 per cent of household income is needed to service basic home ownership costs in Vancouver. Renters would have to have an income of $40,160 to rent the average two-bedroom apartment.

So the cost of housing — and of living — is far more dear in Vancouver than in most other Canadian cities. But people aren’t forced to live here; they can move. Not only is housing in Metro Vancouver expensive, governments exacerbate the situation with taxes, fees, regulations and restrictive land use policies.

But rather than pressing to reduce or eliminate these barriers, the strategy seeks to impose additional development costs and surcharges on various regional levies to raise $50 million a year to spend on social housing.

The principal reason moderate-cost rental units are not built is that, unlike condos, they don’t provide an acceptable return on investment. Piling on additional costs would seem counterproductive.

A proposal from the strategy that might gain traction, however, is a requirement that 15 per cent of units in a new residential or mixed-use development of 20 units or more be affordable units for rent or ownership. A similar plan in Chicago, where 10 per cent of units in certain projects of 10 units or more is expected to create 1,000 homes a year, was passed overwhelmingly by the Windy City‘s council. Developers can opt out of the requirement by paying $100,000 US per unit into a fund that would be used to create more affordable housing.

The Australian government is mulling a plan that would give investors in low-cost housing projects significant tax benefits. Development incentives like these, not increased costs, will spur construction of affordable housing.

In sum, public money spent on housing should be prioritized to get the mentally ill, addicted and infirm off the streets and into treatment and supportive accommodation.

With the exception of families facing problems of disability or chronic illness, using tax dollars to build homes for those who choose to live in Metro Vancouver but cannot afford to do so is public policy gone awry. Many salaried workers earn too much to qualify for government subsidies but are unable to afford a Vancouver lifestyle. They live elsewhere and either commute or find employment closer to their homes.

Rather than make poverty more appealing, governments should use public resources to raise people’s incomes through investment in education and skills training and provide sufficient support for those who need it to get it.

Governments seeking a magic pill to make housing more affordable might consider confiscating less of an individual’s hard-earned income.

The marginal personal tax rate in B.C. on the first $34,397 of income is 5.7 per cent. The federal rate is 15.5 per cent. That someone trying to scrape by on less than $35,000 a year could pay more than $7,000 in income tax is absurd.

Allowing people to keep more of what they earn will do more to solve the affordability problem than a smattering of social housing units.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

Builders helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Innovative builders incorporate a range of products and programs to create homes that are healthier and more energy efficient

Sun

The buildings where we live, learn, work and play contribute more than 30 per cent of our national GHG emissions

If you are looking for a new home that is exceptionally comfortable, healthy to live in, more energy efficient and better for the environment, take a look at the EnviroHome Initiative.

The EnviroHome Initiative was established in 1994 by the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) and TD Canada Trust to recognize and support innovative new home builders who were committed to offering consumers homes that are “better for you, better for your community and better for the environment”.

Every EnviroHome project also incorporates many healthy housing features, reflecting the research and development efforts of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Today, Canadians are aware of the link between their home their health and the health of the environment. That’s why Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) launched the Healthy Housing initiative. CMHC’s publications, videos and seminars educate consumers and people in the housing industry about the link between housing and health, and provide a range of practical, viable options that can be incorporated into homes. To learn more about CMHC’s Healthy Housing Initiative, as well as the many other housing information products and services available from CMHC, visit housing at www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca

The EnviroHome Initiative is also supported by the R-2000 Program. R-2000 is the made-in-Canada home building technology that has earned a worldwide reputation for quality, comfort and environmental responsibility.

Every R-2000 home must meet the quality and performance requirements set out in the R-2000 Technical Standard. This involves special measures in three main areas of construction: energy performance, indoor air quality and use of environmentally preferred materials. The result is a home that is both well-built and extremely comfortable to live in.

Every R-2000 home incorporates a range of cost-effective, energy-efficient building practices and technologies, regardless of its design or size. And only R-2000 homes are independently certified to meet a high level of energy efficiency, beyond what building codes require.

The Canadian Home Builders’ Association works with Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan’s) Office of Energy Efficiency which manages R-2000 on behalf of the federal government. For more information on the EnviroHome Initiative or R-2000 technology click on the featured sites at www.chba.ca

“Canadians recognize climate change is a serious concern that requires immediate action,” says Thomas Mueller, president of the Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC).

“What most people don’t know is that the buildings where we live, learn, work and play contribute more than 30 per cent of our national GHG emissions. Improving the energy efficiency of our homes and buildings is crucial to helping the environment and it will save everyone a lot of money.”

Last month at the World Green Building Council Congress, the CaGBC announced its first national green building event will be held in Toronto, June 11th and 12th, 2008.

The CaGBC national event, “Shifting Into the Mainstream”, will showcase the best of Canadian solutions for achieving high performance buildings, including measurable reductions in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Scalable and sector-specific programs will demonstrate the role of buildings in meeting the objectives of local and national climate change strategies.

The event will attract all sectors of Canada‘s building industry with a program focused on moving leading green building practices into the mainstream.

Increasing access to proven solutions will help jump start the coast-to-coast effort required to make measurable progress towards cutting greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing buildings.

In Canada, buildings represent the single most important opportunity to achieve significant GHG reductions. By 2015, the CaGBC aims to certify 100,000 commercial and 1,000,000 homes with documented GHG reductions that will help Canada meet its Kyoto commitment.

CaGBC is the leading national industry organization advancing green building practices for livable communities. The Council implements the LEED® Green Building Rating System in Canada. For more information visit www.cagbc.org.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

New HP Photosmart printer gets funky but pricey

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Edward C. Baig
USA Today

The HP Photosmart A826 looks like it could waddle off like a penguin. It?s due to arrive in stores next month.

A familiar late-summer scenario: Folks remove memory cards from digital cameras and insert them into kiosks at drugstores and neighborhood photo finishers. Minutes later, they take their vacation prints with them.

I’ve been printing snapshots of my own family’s recent beach vacation by inserting a card into a far smaller kiosk-style printer in my house. It’s the HP Photosmart A826 Home Photo Center that Hewlett-Packard launched Tuesday. The rather funky-shaped $249 printer, complete with touch-screen and stylus, hits stores early next month.

Indeed, the light-blue-and-white model is probably the oddest looking compact printer I’ve come across.

I liked the design but don’t expect it to appeal to everybody. The 5.5-pound contraption stands nearly 11 inches tall and wide, and you can almost envision it waddling off like a penguin. It boasts a 7-inch touch-sensitive screen you can draw on.

It’s large enough to show off pictures slide-show style. In fact, the printer can double as a digital photo frame. Because of the peculiar shape, though, I don’t expect many people to use it that way.

Instead, they’ll stick to its main purpose: printing. For the most part, the quality of images (on the advanced HP photo paper the company recommends you use) rivals the prints you receive from the local lab. HP says such fade-resistant prints are meant to last generations.

Check back with me in a few decades to see if the pictures stand the test of time.

I did run into some snags. And keep in mind that, as with any compact printer, you are mostly limited to smaller prints, typically 4-by-6 or 5-by-7. This latest model can also handle panoramic 4-by-12 paper, as well as photo sticker paper and index cards.

But it’s an inappropriate choice for those who want to blow up large images or who need a printer for standard non-photography-related 8½-by-11 tasks.

A closer look:

The basics. You can connect the printer to a PC or Mac via USB, though it’s not necessary. It’s simpler to insert memory cards into open slots on the front. The printer can handle Secure Digital, CompactFlash, Memory Stick and xD-Picture Cards, among other types. You can also print wirelessly off a Bluetooth-capable computer or phone through an optional $39 adapter.

The machine uses a single tricolor inkjet cartridge, which you slip into a compartment on the front.

While the internal paper tray can hold a batch of 100 sheets of same-size paper (you can’t load 4-by-6 and 5-by-7 sheets simultaneously), the cartridge will more than likely give way before the supply of paper is exhausted.

HP says you’ll get about 55 4-by-6 images off a single cartridge, which is not all that many. I was able to print 25 4-by-6 and 15 5-by-7 images before receiving a low-ink degradation warning. And the last few pictures I printed before receiving the warning came out darkish.

The company also says ink/paper costs amount to 29 cents per 4-by-6 photo, if you purchase a $35, 120-sheet value pack (containing two cartridges) at hpshopping.com.

You’ll pay $15 for a 60-sheet pack of 5-by-7 paper. Ink cartridges fetch about $20. Actual results will vary, of course, depending on the type of pictures you print.

It took about 75 seconds to spit out each of the smaller snapshots in my tests and not quite double that time to produce larger prints. Pictures are deposited onto an output tray folded out in front.

•Touch-screen tricks. Though no substitute for more robust editing on a computer, you can use the printer’s touch-screen to doctor photos. You can crop pictures, remove red-eye and automatically sharpen, brighten and improve the contrast.

With a stylus or your finger, you can draw on photos, a nifty feature, though the slippery screen makes it a tad difficult. You can change the color and line thickness of your scribbles or erase them before printing.

You can also use an onscreen keyboard to create albums, add captions or apply sepia, black-and-white and other effects. And you can add simple clip art and frames to pictures, though I wished for a bigger selection.

Paper woes. Loading paper involves lifting a lid on the top, gently pushing an internal tray backward, and sliding a paper-width guide inside. It’s a surprisingly awkward and flimsy operation. I fretted about breaking something.

A couple of times, I received out-of-paper warnings when there was still paper in the tray. Another time, the whole printer shook menacingly until I received an onscreen warning to “load paper face forward along the left edge.”

Worse, I received a “blue screen” with an error code reminiscent of the type you sometimes get with Windows computers. The blue screen disappeared by itself, and I was able to resume printing.

Such problems aside, the new machine has several welcoming features for people who want to print snapshots, including the large touch display and funky but appealing design.

I’d be more cheerful if it offered greater ink capacity, was smoother on paper handling and less expensive.

Restaurant Listings August 2007

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

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. $$

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. $$/$$$

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. $$

Fuel The food sings. A joy! 1944 West Fourth Ave., 604-288-7905. $$$

Gastropod Beautifully controlled flavours, great value for fine food. 1938 West Fourth Ave., 604-730-5579. $$

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. $$$

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

ITALIAN

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. $$$

La Buca A neighbourhood restaurant serving quality food, backed up by great service. 4025 MacDonald St., 604-730-6988. $$

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. $$$

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

Szechuan Chongqing An institution for those who love the incendiary fare. 2808 Commercial Dr., 604-254-7434. $$

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

JAPANESE

Hapa Izakaya Young and stylish; great izakaya-style Japanese food. 1479 Robson St., 604-689-4272; 1516 Yew St., 604-738-4272. $/$$

Kingyo Wonderfully crafted interior, interesting izakaya dishes. A slice of Tokyo. 871 Denman St., 604-608-1677. $$

Tojo’s Restaurant The topper in this category. Japanese food at its best. 1133 West Broadway, 604-872-8050. $$$

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

FRENCH/BELGIAN

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

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

Jules Paris, anyone? Authentic food, authentic feel. Charming! 216 Abbott St., 604-669-0033. $$

Le Crocodile Refined French with incredible wines to boot. 909 Burrard St., 604-669-4298. $$$

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

GREEK

Kalamata Greek Taverna A popular souvlaki stop dressed in the familiar white and blue. 388 West Broadway, 604-872-7050. $$

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

Maria’s Taverna Friendly service. 2324 West Fourth Ave., 604-731-4722. $$

INDIAN

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

Flying Tiger A menu reminiscent of Asian street food, only stylishly presented. 2958 West Fourth, 604-737-7529. $$

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

Noodle Box Pan-Asian noodle and rice dishes, in modern get-up. 1867 West Fourth Ave., 604-734-1310. $

Phnom Penh Largely Cambodian but includes Chinese and Vietnamese flavours. 244 East Georgia St., 682-5777. $

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. $$$

Go Fish Fab outdoor fish shack, made with fish from the adjacent Fisherman’s Wharf. 1505 West First Ave., 604-730-5040. $

LATIN AMERICA

Banano’s No-frills Venezuelan/Colombian cafe. Delicious arepas. 1223 Pacific Boulevard, 604-408-4228. $

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. $$

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 . $$/$$$

Higashi West Japanese tapas. Views of Burrard Inlet. 143 Chadwick Court, Lonsdale Quay, North Van, 604-904-3755. $$

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

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

BURNABY/NEW WEST

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. $$$

Tamarind Hill. Malaysian cuisine, redolent with well-balanced spices. 628 Sixth Ave., New Westminster. 604-526-3000. $$

COQUITLAM, POCO, PORT MOODY

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

Kirin Seafood Restaurant Chinese food for the discriminating palate. 2nd floor, Henderson Place, 1163 Pinetree Way, Coquitlam, 604-944-8833. $$/$$$

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. $/$$

Hon’s Wun-Tun House Noodles and delicious pot stickers, panfried or steamed. 4600 No. 3 Road, Richmond, 604-273-0871. $

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

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. $$/$$$

Hazelmere Golf and Tennis Club West Coast cuisine. Hazelmere Golf and Tennis Club, 18150 – Eighth Ave., Surrey, 604-538-1212 $$/$$

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

Northview Golf and Country Club High-end dining, nestled amid acres of golf fairways. 6857 168th St., Surrey, 604-574-0324. $$$

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

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

Persian hot spot meets high expectations

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

North Shore restaurant has a small but cozy dining room and an extensive, fairly priced menu

A.R. Wodell
Sun

On what passed locally for a hot August evening, we wanted a refreshing yet substantial cuisine. Knowing that the North Shore has become a commercial hub for our growing Iranian community, we decided to investigate a rumoured Persian hot spot.

Located at the western edge of the Ambleside shopping strip, just half a block from the West Van Memorial Library, Shalizar proved an interesting find in more ways than one.

The restaurant is quite intimate, with just room for a dozen or so tables, but conveys a decidedly upscale vibe. The staff made us feel instantly at home –rather as if we had inadvertently crashed an elegant party in a stranger’s living room. This reminded us of one of the persistent myths about Iranian cuisine: that it does not adapt well to restaurants and is best enjoyed in the home of friends.

Shalizar begs to differ. Its menu is extensive (bolstered by a lasagna, and even fish and chips, in what can only be considered an unnecessary nod to Olde West Van tastes). We turned directly to the pages devoted to the glory of Persian specialties.

Partly to accommodate a vegan friend who joined us at the last moment, we started with a generous selection of appetizers and were delighted by their humus ($3.95), piquant spiced green olives ($2.95), zeytoon — a marvellous pickled veggie relish ($3.25), and a killer eggplant dip ($6.95), all accompanied by delicious puffy bread.

Shalizar offers to prepare many of its main dishes without meat, but the true veggie find on the menu is the generous Shalizar salad ($7.95). It’s priced as an appetizer but bigger than many restaurants’ entrees, combining three types of cheese with avocado and assorted greens, topped with a slightly spicy house dressing.

For our two main courses we opted for black cherry rice with chicken ($14.95), which was tender, spicy, and tart all at once. It came with optional butter topping, and gheymeh ($10.95), a beef/splitpea/eggplant combination simmered in slightly smoky tomato sauce, served beside a substantial mound of saffron basmanti rice. Both dishes were garnished with small salads. A single taste of the cherry rice prompted our vegan to order a side dish of his own ($5.50).

A solid wine list was being enjoyed by most other tables, but we opted for doogh — a homemade yoghurt-based drink with a slightly salty undertaste ($2.75) — which made a very fine complement to the food.

Owners Andrea and Alireza Kenari (the latter a chef who does not cook at the restaurant but supervises all food purchases) acquired the former Olde Fish and Chips Shop in April of 2006, and spent ten months completely renovating the premises.

“We saw there was no fine dining in Persian style in Vancouver, and decided to take the risk,” Andrea said. “We opened on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, and we were instantly rewarded — the restaurant was full, and customers came up to us afterwards with tears in their eyes, thanking us for offering this cuisine. How could you ask for a better response?”

Shalizar offers decidedly exotic elegance in a warm and welcoming venue; its portions are substantial and its prices more than reasonable. Having sated our party of three for just $68, we vowed to return in order to sample other intriguing offerings. A warning: reservations are advisable.

- – -

SHALIZAR

1863 Marine Drive, West Vancouver, 604-921-9500

Lunch and dinner, open noon to 10 pm daily

Live music Saturday and Sunday evenings

Price: $$

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

Tunisian cafe serves up exotic, elegant dining

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

French, African and Turkish influences are wrapped into one tasty package at a new Commercial Drive eatery

Linda Bates
Sun

The Carthage Cafe on Commercial Drive serves up tasty Tunisian fare such as this mussel dish. Photograph by : Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun

Mohammed Draoui co-owns the restaurant and is also a chef. Photograph by : Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun

Perhaps because one of my most memorable meals was in Tunisia, I eagerly anticipated a visit to Carthage Cafe, Vancouver’s new Tunisian restaurant on Commercial Drive.

That long-ago meal was in Kairouan, a city with a mosque second in holiness only to those of Mecca and Medina. We’d gone to see the Grand Mosque but neglected to check whether it would be open the day we visited — and it wasn’t. We had a good time anyway, wandering the quiet streets and chatting with kids who politely hit us up for stylos — pens.

Many restaurants were closed, too, but we finally found one where we were the only patrons. The owner heated up the grill, threw on some smelts and vegetables, added olive oil, lemon and some spices — and it was magic.

The Carthage Cafe, open since May, doesn’t have grilled smelts on the menu, but it does do a fine job of producing the delicious French/North African/Mediterranean cuisine unique to Tunisia.

Owners, chefs and brothers Zico and Mohammed Draoui spent many years in Quebec City, where they both cooked in restaurants in upscale hotels like the Hilton and Radisson before the promise of a warmer climate drew them to Vancouver.

Zico (whom I had a hard time reaching, since he was often out shopping for fresh ingredients, a good sign) says the cuisine of Tunisia reflects the many cultures that have passed through the country, each leaving its mark.

In addition to North African dishes like couscous (pasta-like wheat granules) and tagine (a kind of slow-cooked stew made in a special dish) Carthage has, among other dishes, coquilles St. Jacques, bouillabaisse and creme caramel (France), as well as rosewater baklava (Turkey).

Everything I tried here over several visits was delicious. Look for home-made couscous rather than the instant kind, and generous use of saffron and lemon in the tagine and bouillabaisse. The lamb chops with mint sauce, (served with a Tunisian salad of tomatoes, onion and apples with herb dressing and french fries), featured a dark tasty sauce. The couscous Menani includes local halibut in a cumin sauce reduction. Halibut might not be Mediterranean, but it works beautifully in this dish.

Waiting for another visit is the delicious merguez, a spicy North African sausage, served here with salad and fries or in couscous. Also, one of the three mussel dishes will be calling me next time around.

I love restaurants that manage to have have an exotic, elegant feel without upscale prices, so at Carthage I was sold just walking in the door.

The crisp blue tablecloths, beautiful Tunisian hanging lamps and furnishings (provided by another Draoui brother, still in Tunis) and friendly black-clad servers set a tone, which, fortunately, the food was able to match.

In some places, Vancouver’s labour shortage is causing a decline in service. But not at Carthage. Somehow the Draoui brothers have attracted a cadre of young, enthusiastic servers who don’t seem to mind in the slightest when you send them repeatedly back to the kitchen with questions.

Tunisia produces some excellent wines, too, but unfortunately you won’t find a wine list yet at this restaurant. Although they’ve been approved to serve liquor, the civic workers’ strike has held up the issuing of a permit.

CARTHAGE CAFE

1851 Commercial Dr.

604-215-0661

http://carthage-cafe.com

Open Monday to Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Overall: 4

Food: 4

Ambience: 4

Service: 4

Price: $$

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

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

House-bots lag in sales

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Sun

IRobot Corp. wants to broaden the appeal of its Roomba cleaning robots by introducing a more durable model with twice as much vacuuming power. The new vacuum can clean the entire floor of a home every day for three to five years, says chief executive officer Colin Angle. And the $250 device has automatic-scheduling features that were only previously available only on more expensive models. It seems home robots aren’t as popular as industrial and military robots. So IRobot hopes to get more families on the Jetson bandwagon when it introduces new robots next month that are “designed to help you manage your home and take care of it.” Whew, how did we manage before?

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

Unleash your inner Latin lover

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

It’s the best of Brazilian, Mexican, Argentine and Cuban fusion

Mark Laba
Province

Chef and co-owner of Gastown’s Cobre Restaurant, Stuart Irving poses with a dish of chicken taquitos and a few bottles of the restaurant’s aged tequilas. Cobre is the brainchild of three area restaurateurs and features nuevo Latino cuisine, a fusion of Argentine, Cuban, Mexican and Brazilian cooking. Photograph by : Wayne Leidenfrost, The Province

I was watching Dora the Explorer with my three-and-a-half-year-old the other day hoping to brush up on my Spanish before hitting this new joint. I learned the Spanish word for jump and log, but unfortunately Dora never got around to pisco, tatemado or chayote.

Luckily Cobre supplies you with a glossary when you sit down to eat.

Billed as nuevo Latino cuisine, which means the kitchen is taking a bit of the best from B.C. ingredients, some fancy plate stylings and then driving that bus down Mexico and South America way. The three owners have all been around the culinary block with ex-executive chef of Wild Rice Stuart Irving heading up the kitchen. Tyson Reimer, no stranger to top-notch kitchens himself, is now shedding the apron strings to run the front end of the house. And Jason Kelly works the beverage angle.

Peaches and I stepped into this beautifully renovated space with three levels, a swanky wine vault for private shindigs taking up the main level. The bar on the first floor is a spiffy spot to sit, curving copper overhead while you get loopy on cocktails like the Tijuana Speedball or the Cobre Cobra. Nifty wine list to boot.

The top level has a secluded overview of the place that showcases timber beams, lots of brickwork and an off-white semi-circular banquette that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Pablo Escobar’s basement discotheque.

I was happy to discover a new beer from Argentina called Patagonia, which I found invigorating. As was the charred tomato achiote soup ($8), a dusky concoction with a smoky flavour and a subtle zing.

Perfect company for the chicken taquitos ($14) with an amazing homemade guacamole. Dip the taquitos in the soup and your tastebuds will hang 10 on your tongue.

Next up Peaches and I puzzled over the duck confit papusas with caramelized shallots hunkered down in a dark pool of mole duck jus ($12). These three small pale critters resembled some kind of outer-space pods. But the innards were savoury and the sauce amazing with the slightest sweet tinge to offset the quacker fat.

We forged ahead with grilled Gulf of Mexico prawns squaring off on the plate with star anise-speckled pane bread capped with pasilla corn flan ($16). Beautiful crustaceans with a bit of chili oil to shake them out of their deep-sea slumber and the only puzzling aspect to this dish to me was the bread flan combination. The pasilla chili emanated a pleasing heat but the wiggly custard coagulation and moist bread didn’t seem to have any relationship with the sea life.

We ended with the flash-seared skirt steak with peppercorn adobo, a baby Tijuana Caesar and excellent chorizo hash ($15). It lives up to its billing and works all the textural and taste angles.

Y’know,” I said to Peaches. “I think this food might finally transform me into the Latin lover I was meant to be.”

“Yeah, well just don’t quit your day job,” she said.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Living la vita cobre.

RATINGS: Food: A Service: A

Atmosphere: A

REVIEW

Cobre Restaurant

Where: 52 Powell St., Vancouver

Payment/reservations: Major credit cards, 604-669-2396

Drinks: Fully licensed.

Hours: 5:30 p.m.-late every day.

© The Vancouver Province 2007

 

Roaring home sales just tip of the iceberg

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Other