Archive for January, 2008

A ski week for Mexicans? Whistler promoters say ‘Si!’

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Visits to B.C. are climbing with more non-stop flights from Mexico City

Bruce Constantineau
Sun

A group of skiers from Mexico City, in Whistler for the second annual Mexican Whistler Ski Week, get ready to head down to the village after a day of skiing and racing. Mexico has emerged as a strong, growing market for the B. C. tourism industry.

Those 200 boisterous skiers swooshing, gliding and racing for trophies down the powdery slopes of Whistler this week represent a hugely promising B.C. tourism market – Mexico.

With no ski resort of their own, more than 150,000 Mexican skiers flock to winter destinations every year and Whistler-Blackcomb has gained prominence on their radar.

“They’re a lot more aware of Canada and it has become more trendy to travel here,” Tourism Whistler sales director Karen Goodwin said in an interview. “Many of them have been to Niagara Falls, seen the CN Tower and visited Montreal so they want to try something new.”

Mexicans are clearly more drawn to Whistler in the winter, as the resort attracts between 5,000 and 10,000 overnight visitors from Mexico between November and April, compared with just 1,500 between May and October.

Tourism BC figures show that 72,500 Mexicans visited the province during the first 11 months of 2007 — an increase of more than 23 per cent over 2006.

That’s more overnight visitors than the number from Hong Kong or Taiwan and only 7,000 fewer than Germany, a vital international market for B.C.

Travel flows between B.C. and Mexico are still heavily skewed in Mexico‘s favour, with 123,000 B.C. residents traveling to Mexico during the first half of 2007 compared with 34,100 Mexicans coming the other way. But the Mexico-to-B.C. figure was up more than 27 per cent over the previous year.

Whistler is capitalizing on the trend this week by hosting a bash — the second annual Mexican Whistler Ski Week — to promote the destination to well-heeled Mexican travellers.

The event features special ski training days, races, exclusive shopping, group dinners and apres-ski parties for Mexican visitors.

More than 200 people made the trek to Whistler from Mexico City this year, up from 130 last year, and they’re having fun.

Mexican tour operator Nathan Baker feels Mexicans and Canadians relate well to each other because they’re both so heavily influenced by their huge U.S. neighbour.

“We find Canadians to be very friendly and we appreciate that, too,” he said in an interview while enjoying a beverage with his fellow Mexican travellers this week at the Garibaldi Lift Co. bar in Whistler.

More than half the visitors on this trip came as guests of corporate sponsors but many heard about the event on Mexican radio and paid their own way, with packages starting at around $2,500.

Baker said about 20 visitors on the Whistler trip have never skied before but are keen to learn as they take advantage of lessons from resort ski instructors, some of whom speak Spanish. He feels Whistler has emerged as the third most popular destination for Mexican skiers recently — behind Colorado and Utah.

Mexican marketing consultant Arturo Cervantes — who conceived the Mexican Ski Week idea four years ago after seeing so many Mexicans in Whistler — said Canadian skiers have been patient on the slopes with some of the less-than-expert Mexicans.

“They’re very nice to Mexican skiers, even though they may not be very good,” he said. “Nobody gets into any trouble because they don’t ski well.”

Tour organizer Louis Miguel Fuentes said it’s easier now for Mexicans to travel to Canada than the U.S. There are at least 11 non-stop flights a week from Mexico City to Vancouver and Mexicans can travel to Canada without a visa.

“But you need a visa to get into the U.S. and sometimes it is very difficult to get one,” Fuentes said.

Tourism BC North American marketing director Carol Nelson said a growing middle class in Mexico with a growing penchant for international travel has prompted Canadian tourism officials to pay more attention to the market.

The Canadian Tourism Commission established an office in Mexico City five years ago and Tourism BC, which spent virtually nothing on marketing to Mexico just two or three year ago, now spends $250,000 a year on the Mexican market.

“About 13 million Mexicans travel internationally every year and Canada only attracts about 250,000,” Nelson said in an interview. “So there’s a lot of room for growth.”

She said B.C. received about $1.4 million worth of media coverage in Mexico last year, with about $400,000 of that generated by the first Mexican Whistler Ski Week. Tourism BC launched a new Spanish-language website two months ago, which has attracted about 5,000 visitors so far.

CTC vice-president of sales Andrew Clark said Mexican visitation to Canada has increased by about 25 per cent in the past five years.

“There’s some real enthusiasm in Mexico for some key Canadian attributes,” he said. “Canada is considered to be a beautiful country that’s very clean and very safe.”

He said many Mexican travellers to Canada are “high-yield, long-stay” consumers who spend a lot of money — an estimated $275 million in 2006.

“They like to travel in relatively large groups so they generate some very good spending,” Clark said. “They basically stay longer and spend more.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

 

Dominion Lending Centres

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

ARE YOUR DUCKS IN LINE ?

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Homeowners late on loans often don’t seek help

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Noelle Knox
USA Today

An Atlanta home in foreclosure. Many facing mortgage trouble don’t seek help, a survey says.

With a record number of new foreclosures hitting neighborhoods across the country, a surprising 58% of delinquent homeowners don’t know their lenders may offer ways to help them keep their homes, and 56% don’t know that free counseling exists to help them, a survey being released Thursday found.

The findings highlight the challenges for the mortgage industry as it tries to stem financial and social upheaval from the 2 million foreclosures expected this year.

The survey found that many homeowners are unaware of the most common ways their lender can help them avoid foreclosure.

Only slightly more than half the 1,400 delinquent borrowers surveyed knew that a missed payment could be added to their loan balance, for example, or that their mortgage terms could be extended in some circumstances, the Freddie Mac/Roper survey found.

But the biggest obstacle to stopping a foreclosure, Freddie Mac  says, is the frequent failure of lenders or loan servicers to make contact with the homeowner in the first place.

 

Servicers are unable to contact borrowers in more than half of the foreclosures we see,” says Ingrid Beckles, vice president of servicing for Freddie Mac, which has about 10 million loans in its portfolio.

One in four homeowners who were at least three months behind on their loan said they didn’t contact their lender or loan servicer because they lacked enough money to make a payment, denied that they were having trouble or mistakenly assumed that no help was available, the survey found.

“When we go into a house that’s been foreclosed to clean it out, we find stacks and stacks of letters from the servicer that have never been opened,” says Robin Stout Migala, senior manager of Freddie Mac’s loss mitigation team. “Many just think the servicers just want to take the house back, which, of course, is not true.”

Even when loan terms are eased, at least temporarily, about one in five of those borrowers default again, she says.

And Freddie Mac invests only in prime mortgages, not subprime, which are more prone to defaults.

The most common reasons people fall behind on their mortgage are loss of a job or reduced income, illness, divorce and a death in the family.

In addition, a rising problem has been subprime borrowers, some of whom are defaulting because of rising loan interest rates.

In December, the mortgage industry and the Bush administration announced a plan to help some of the 1.2 million homeowners with subprime adjustable-rate loans. Lenders have sent hundreds of thousands of letters to homeowners, alerting them that their payments will rise and offering to help them refinance into a loan if they qualify, or freeze their interest rates if they don’t.

They are working with the Homeownership Preservation Foundation, which runs a toll-free hotline to provide counseling for borrowers (888-995-HOPE).

The foundation is receiving about 4,000 calls daily from people in distress.

 

Coffee for thought

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Medina opened up recently and it’s right next door to and run by the same owners at Chambar

Mia Stainsby
Sun

Robbie Kane serves up a Liege waffle with fig and orange marmalade, and a fresh fruit, granola, yogurt and compote dish. Photograph by : Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun

One morning recently, I went to Medina to give it the once-over and try the coffee and the Liége waffle borrowed from the streets of Belgium.

Well, the coffee was brilliant with a thick crema that refused to die. I chose a fig/marmalade compote (from eight choices) to go with the waffle. I could have grooved to the music, reading, and spinning out a whole afternoon.

In the bathroom, I had a lump-in-my-throat moment reading a verse by reggae artist Tanya Stephenson limned on the wall: “What a day when war becomes a thing of the past and peace, we will have at last and life is finally worth its cost/And oh what a day when men finally live what they teach and love ain’t just a concept we preach and blood no longer runs in the street/Oh what a day.”

Medina (means “vibrant city” in Arabic) opened recently after the city strike brought the project to a grinding halt last summer. It’s right next door to and run by the same owners as Chambar, a restaurant that hits all the right notes.

Owners Nico and Karri Shuermans are joined in this venture by managing partner Robbie Kane who was previously a waiter at Chambar.

By early spring, the trio will be able to take over the back area, now an office, and get it on with an ample breakfast and lunch menu. Right now, there’s that great coffee (49th Parallel, the organic Epic blend), waffles, fruit with yogurt and baklava. Liége waffles, incidentally, are leavened with yeast and large crystal sugar in the dough caramelizes in the waffle iron.

- – -

MEDINA

556 Beatty St., 604-879-3114,

www.medinacafe.com

Open 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

Follow your nose to Saffron

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

When you spot the deep yellow sign, pull over and go inside. You won’t be disappointed

Russell Wodell
Sun

Chef Keshaw Dutt organizes servings of his popular dishes at the Saffron Indian Cuisine restaurant on Kingsway. Photograph by : Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun

Previously we had registered this restaurant only as a cheering splash of bright Indian colour — saffron, of course — in an otherwise drab Kingsway mini-mall, while approaching the indispensable intellectual resource of the Metrotown branch of the Burnaby Public Library.

Big mistake!

When you spot the deep yellow Saffron Indian Cuisine sign, we strongly advise you to pull over and go inside. (It’s only a few blocks from the Metrotown SkyTrain stop.) You can pretty much follow your nose, as a deep and delicious melange of spices makes itself known even before the door is opened.

The small, oddly angular space (presumably because a triangular pizza parlour has been sliced off one end) is decidedly contemporary, and Saffron offers a nicely modern take on the decor evoked by a few decorative panels of traditional Indian textiles.

It also has a slightly surreal-looking bar, lit from below in bright blue. On a cold, dark January evening, we were surprised to find almost every table occupied, and only slightly dismayed to register that two of our trio were by far the oldest people present (staff included).

Chef Kuldeep Bains, who trained in a variety of international cuisines at the Ritz Hotel in London, says the clientele changes depending on the time of day: a lunchtime crowd descends from the surrounding offices, and the weekend crowd tends to be larger family groups “who seem to come for the butter chicken.”

Just as the room avoids the excessive decor of some ethnic-focused restaurants, the menu has been kept to a workable number of options. We chose to sample some of the less familiar regional dishes from the Punjab-oriented selection: Chicken Hederabadi ($12.95), Goa curried prawns ($14.95), Kashmiri pulao rice laced with raisins and slivers of nuts ($3.50), a mixed vegetable korma ($10.95), and a lamb chili ($13.95).

Our waitress kindly warned us that one dish per person plus rice and bread was going to be more than plenty. In the interests of good reviewing, we ordered far too much (that’s as good an excuse for gluttony as we can come up with) and happily took the residue home.

It proved a fine sampling choice. The chicken was lusciously subtle; the veggies heartening and comforting; the lamb sharply assertive and sinus-cleansing. Our one small disappointment was the prawns — the seafood was previously frozen and slightly rubbery. But the coconut milk-based sauce that accompanied it was sensational, and every drop got scooped up with the accompanying breads: plain naan ($1.50) and a special Saffron stuffed naan ($3.50) — the latter highly recommended.

We returned the following Saturday to sample the mid-day buffet ($10.50 per person). A discreet, possibly jocular sign invites you to help yourself to as much as you wish, but warns of a retributory surcharge of $2.50 in the event of excessive waste. Fat chance!

All present cleaned their plates, returned for dessert, then relaxed totally replete and ready for a nap. A lavish choice of entrees favoured chicken dishes, but there was a good selection of pakoras and other vegetarian entrees.

The standout vegetarian dish was the mushroom mutter, a fabulous combination of peas and mushrooms in onion sauce that one could happily eat daily. No doubt some local customers do. Lucky them.

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SAFFRON INDIAN CUISINE

5 – 4300 Kingsway, Burnaby

604-436-5000

Open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Reservations recommended

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

 

Early-bird dinner deal makes it Chow time

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

The eatery has softened its acoustics and introduced a three-course menu for $35 that’s excellent value

Mia Stainsby
Sun

Waitress Jill serves soup in the main dining room at Chow restaurant in Vancouver, as patrons relax in the bar area. Photograph by : Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun

In May when I first reviewed Chow, the gist of it was that ya, ya, the food was lovely but the noise drove me crazy. It was worse than a Canucks home game during playoffs.

Fast-forward eight months. Different story. Now I find a pleasant buzz of conversation, thanks to an easy fix with sound-absorbing materials on the walls, and I can experience the place unplugged.

Dine Out Vancouver is in full tilt and although Chow isn’t a participant, it was packed by a loyal, local base of fans. (According to the grapevine, there are those who shun favourite restaurants to avoid Dine Out invaders.)

Since I last visited, Chow has introduced a three-course early-bird menu for $35, which runs from 5 to 6 p.m. (to 6:30 during Dine Out). I would suggest, if you like a good deal, this is worth checking out. I did.

For $35, I had a beet salad showcasing the hidden charms of the lowbrow root (baby beets, full of tender flavour with candied walnuts, Okanagan goat cheese, bitter orange purée and vin cotto vinegar). Second course: a lovely, roasted ling cod with sauce grenobloise atop bulgur salad and a side of silky cauliflower purée. Third course: frozen nougat, sprinkled with pistachios with vanilla-poached pear and a pear purée, which reminded me of a pear sorbet I had 20 years ago in France that still tantalizes me.

My partner’s $35 meal consisted of a creamy mussel soup with grilled bread and saffron froth; ultra-tender organic pork, sunchoke purée, pillowy gnocchi, chestnut jus. For dessert, he had chocolate mille-feuille with house-made puff pastry, coffee cream, Bailey’s ice cream and creme anglais.

Beside us, a table of two women looked astonished as they viewed the prix fixé menu. “This fixed menu looks great!” one of them said, as if expecting humble pie for earlybird cheapskates.

On another visit we ordered from the regular menu. We loved the roasted portobello tart; the flat iron beef with potato fondant, grilled king oyster mushroom, spinach purée and red wine braised shallots and the pan-seared Vancouver Island scallops with house-made garganelli pasta, oyster mushrooms, wild arugula and cauliflower purée.

On that visit, the dessert of pistachio and almond baklava with poached pears ad honey ice cream wasn’t as compelling as our prix fixé desserts, or as transcendent as a creamy lemon tart I’d had when I visited last May. Some of the main dishes, by the way, come in two sizes and prices.

Chef and co-owner Jean-Christophe (J.C. to anyone who knows him) has previously worked at Lumière and C restaurants, as well as at Montreal‘s pride, Toqué. He’s one of the new breed of chefs who butchers his own meat. He uses the pig snout to tail, so somewhere on the menu you’ll find sausage in some form (convenient package for some of the less-desirable bits), and now he brings in whole lamb to do the same. Dishes are $10 to $39.

Co-owner Mike Thomson plays the genial host and it’s a welcoming place; the bartender calls out a salutation as I peer into the bar area. Bar manager Christopher Flett takes his drinks very seriously with a delicious list of cocktails, a whisky and bourbon list. Wines are mostly New World with a growing selection of Old World.

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CHOW

3121 Granville St., 604-608-2469

Open for dinner only, www.chow-restaurant.com

Overall: 4 1/2

Food: 4 1/2

Ambience: 4

Service: 4

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

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

 

Where visiting celebrities go to dine

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Some seek privacy but others want to be seen. Here’s where you are most likely to find them

Yvonne Zacharias
Sun

Diana Krall and Elvis Costello were spotted at Bishop’s just before Christmas. Photograph by : Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Anne Hathaway

Jessica Alba

Ben Stiller

The bar at CinCin. Anne Hathaway, B e n S t i l l e r a n d Pierce Brosnan are a m o n g t h o s e t o have dined at the R o b s o n S t r e e t eatery.

At Elbow Room, the celebs are on the wall, as well as at the tables.

The next time you head out for some fine dining, take a minute to look at the table next to you. You never know who you might find.

Jennifer Aniston, Aaron Eckhart, Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Ashley Judd, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ashton Kutcher and Kathy Bates are all shooting films in town. They have to eat somewhere, don’t they?

There are a few hot spots where you could easily bump into one of them. Try the Blue Water Café, CinCin Ristorante, Tojo’s, West, Cioppinos’s and C restaurant, to name a few.

The celebrities create a certain buzz the minute they walk in. The staff loves it. The patrons love it. So do the stars.

There is a wide variance in the celebrities’ preferences. Some like to trumpet their presence. Others want to hide it. Some are sociable; some are not.

Edwyn Kumar, CinCin restaurant director, said actress Anne Hathaway was one of the sociable ones. “She was talking to people at the tables beside her and having her photos taken with them.”

All kinds of celebrities have passed through CinCin’s doors, including Aniston recently, Isaiah Washington, Canucks player Henrik Sedin, actors Ben Stiller, Jason Priestley and Pierce Brosnan and members of The Tragically Hip.

“They don’t get a different level of treatment. It just doesn’t exist,” said Kumar. “I think they appreciate that.”

He says they are drawn to the warm, welcoming ambience of the restaurant and the cooking style, which incorporates a wood oven and a wood grill.

Some are dressed superbly, especially the women, he said. “They are coming out for a nice dinner and they look fantastic.”

Kumar said the women certainly don’t starve themselves. “I don’t see them ordering a half soup and a salad for a main. They are ordering off the menu.” And the majority of the celebrities drink alcohol of some kind if they are of age.

At the Blue Water Café, restaurant director Stephan Cachard says celebrities go for appetizers and entrées that are mostly sushi, lobster and fish. They tend to drink quite a few martinis, he said, as well as beer and glasses of wine. They rarely order a whole bottle.

“I can’t remember the last time I saw one of them ordering a bottle of wine.”

Jessica Alba is a regular here. Other guests last year included Charlize Theron, Renée Zellweger and Kim Basinger. Catherine Zeta-Jones was once a guest as were Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart, as well as Lucy Liu and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Cachard said they like coming here because there is an open space where they can be seen. Some actually want that. If they don’t, they can be tucked away into a quiet, intimate area.

With an open kitchen, open sushi bar and bar all on one floor, the room is very energized, said Cachard.

The celebrities sometimes order dessert, said Cachard, but that doesn’t happen often.

The Cactus Club in Yaletown is another place that draws in both athletes and actors.

General manager Kevin Banno says the restaurant/bar’s attraction is partly its location in Yaletown. It gets people away from Granville Street, which can be scary on a Saturday night.

Athletes also like that fact that everything on the menu is alterable. Hockey players often come in and order a grilled chicken breast, brown rice and broccoli, and that is okay.

Banno says the big names are drawn here by its casual, low-key atmosphere. “We don’t point any fingers.”

Sometimes the kid-glove treatment gets to be too much, even for the stars. For a dose of reality, they head to a hole-in-the-wall breakfast place Elbow Room Café on Davie Street, where owner Patrick Savoie serves them hearty portions along with some fun-filled abuse.

Even Sharon Stone doesn’t get to jump the queue here and Tom Selleck was once told to refill his own coffee.

Despite his brusque ways, Savoie is known as a man with a heart of gold. He has a rule in his place that if you don’t finish your breakfast and there is nothing wrong with the food, you have to put money in the jar to help feed people with AIDs. Since 1993, he has raised $53,600 in this way.

Savoie says half the time he doesn’t know that this actress or that actor is sitting at one of his tables.

He yearns for the old days when the stars were really big and you knew who they were.

Sometimes his staff gets all excited because members of some big band have arrived. “But to tell the truth, honey, if it isn’t someone like Tina Turner, I wouldn’t know who it is.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

 

Discrete hangouts for the stars

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

The opulent, five-diamond Sutton Place Hotel keeps Hollywood’s famous warm and cosy, while the Opus in Yaletown keeps the rock stars happy

Yvonne Zacharias
Sun

Sutton Place Hotel’s Penny Graham has learned how to cater to a celebrity clientele . Photograph by : Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun

Many stars are fiercely loyal to The Metropolitan Hotel. Photograph by : Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun

Step into the Gerard lounge at the Sutton Place hotel and you might spota Hollywood favourite. Photograph by : Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun

Cher, Gwen Stefani and Christina Aguilera have all stayed at the Opus. Photograph by : Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun

Stride through the opulent lobby of the Sutton Place Hotel and there is no telling who you might see. Name a star, almost any star, who has shot a film in Vancouver and chances are they have stayed here.

Sometimes the celebrities aren’t so obvious. They tend to criss-cross public pathways disguised in scarfs, hats and sunglasses.

But even stars have to shine once in a while. Step into the dark cocoon of the Gerard Lounge at the Sutton and you might spot them. In this venerable precinct, with its English club atmosphere, leather chairs and cosy fireplace, you are apt to find actors, directors and up-and-comers taking in a relaxing drink at the end of the day. Many a deal gets hatched in the Gerard.

But like most Hollywood North hangouts, this is a place of absolute discretion. Vancouverites are known for keeping a polite distance even when the big and the famous are in their midst. No paparazzi here. Barging in would be unseemly. Our northern polite friendliness is one of the reasons we are such a popular place for shooting movies.

At the Sutton, celebrities fall into the gracious, professional hands of senior sales manager Penny Graham who has been with the hotel since the start.

Graham reminds you of a favourite aunt, the kind who can soothe and make everyone feel at home while handling the logistics of the big family buffet, calming a squalling child and keeping the household marching to a perfect beat.

Graham is shy about naming the celebrities who have stayed here, not because it is any deep dark secret but because she is concerned about leaving people out.

She merely points out that the Sutton is the first choice for hotel accommodation in Vancouver in the film and television industry. Its biggest competitor, she added, is private accommodation.

The Sutton has a variety of offerings from one- and two-bedroom apartments to suites with fully equipped kitchens. Still, sometimes the lodgings aren’t big enough for stars who are here for many months on a television shoot and who have family staying with them or coming and going.

THE OPUS

Over at the Opus Hotel in Yaletown, which is more of a boutique-style hotel built to have a homelike neighbourhood feel, rock stars are sometimes spotted having breakfast in the Elixir bistro or in the bar. They like the Opus’ proximity to GM Place.

Consider the Opus, which opened five years ago, the brash upstart to the demure Sutton which has been around since Expo ’86.

The Sutton Place might be king of the block, but Katrina Carroll-Foster, vice-president of marketing and sales at the Opus, points out that there are plenty of celebrities to go around. The new kid is getting its fair share.

Cher, Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera, Ashley Judd, Anne Heche and Eric McCormack have all stayed at the Opus. Moby launched his CD here, sending the chef on a search for gourmet macro-biotic recipes. On a recent Thursday, Ashton Kutcher did some impromptu spinning with the hotel’s DJ.

The Opus is as colourful and quirky as the Sutton is sedate. With its bold colours and basic lines, the Yaletown hotel has both a modern yet nostalgic, retro 1950s look to it. If the Flintstones had been millionaires, this is the type of place they would have lived in.

The hotel’s penthouse, which everyone calls the diva suite, has a revolving door of big names who come and go.

And what a suite it is, with rich chocolate brown walls, a fireplace and a plush, red, sectional couch. It’s posh, yet feels like home.

Occasionally, passersby do a double take when they spot members of their favourite rock band hanging out at the hotel, said Carroll-Foster.

Mostly, they are left alone, she said, although she could recall an instance where fans on the street saw members of a really famous band inside the hotel. They had been practising in Vancouver for some time before their concert. The musicians were kind enough to go outside and give their autographs.

THE METROPOLITAN

Stars are drawn to this hotel or that sometimes because it matches their personality or out of a fierce loyalty. The Metropolitan Hotel has attracted the likes of Harrison Ford, Halle Berry, Bryan Adams, Janet Jackson, Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Goldie Hawn who filmed Bird on a Wire in the penthouse suite.

The hotel bar makes sure to have plenty of Ford’s favourite brand of Scotch on hand, the kitchen whips up vegan specialities for the vegan Adams, and Berry‘s bar gets stocked with Fiji water, says Kate Rogers, who handles public relations for the hotel.

Berry, the star of Catwoman and the X-Men films, has had a long association with the hotel. She has stayed in the penthouse, called the Taipan suite, for months on end. It commands $3,500 a night, although such long stays warrant a special rate. Berry calls it her home away from home.

Sometimes, the hotel witnesses some comical conflicts between handlers and guests.

For example, when American hip hop artist and actor LL Cool J came to stay, he was accompanied by a trainer, a big congenial fellow who hovered in the restaurant kitchen, insisting on no fat and no salt in Cool J’s diet.

Then, about 11 p.m., Cool J would sneak down and ask for chocolate chip cookies, which the kitchen would whip up for him.

What a guest wants, a guest gets, said Rogers. Even when the handlers don’t agree.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

AOL’s Netscape dead at 13

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Sun

Netscape Navigator, the web browser that launched the consumer Internet and changed the way humanity seeks information, will be euthanized Friday.

After years of neglect and indifference since it was mortally wounded by Microsoft Corp., parent company AOL decided it’s not worth keeping it alive with security updates.

It will die at 13 years of age.

As people discovered the Internet through the ’90s, Netscape became synonymous with this powerful new network.

Its iconic blue helm, and later the “N” ascending from the Earth, was a fixture of the early wired home, alongside the screech and hiss of the dial-up modem.

Netscape rose to and held its dominance until Microsoft offered Explorer for free in Windows 95.

With this battle salvo, PC users quickly switched to IE, and the grounds were laid for a historical antitrust trial that convicted Microsoft of monopolistic behaviour.

AOL continued to put out new versions of Netscape, but Jon Stewart, research director at Nielsen Online, says the company stabbed itself in 2000 with Netscape 6, which was a nightmare for web developers who wanted their websites work on both browsers.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

 

The garden of earthy delights

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

With dishes and spices like these, it would be easy

Mark Laba
Province

Pradeep Thankappan with several specialties from the restaurant Saravanaa Bhavan.

Saravanaa Bhavan

Where: 955 W. Broadway

Payment/reservations: Major credit cards, 604-732-7700

Drinks: Wine, beer and soft drinks

Hours: Open everyday, lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

For many years, the only reason I thought vegetables existed were to plump up animals to get them ready for eating. Potatoes didn’t count since they came from the Mr. Potato Head species, which, as we know, are a few notches up in the human-evolution chain.

Then I saw Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr. Phibes and in one scene he drips Brussels-sprout juice all over the face of a sleeping victim and then lets a swarm of locusts loose in the room.

The results, for a 10-year-old, were inspiring and from then on I thought, boy, vegetables are cool.

Still, it’s not often that I go out of my way to engage in a full-on veggie gorge-fest but if any place was to tempt me, it was this new enterprise. Well, new to Vancouver but really this chain of restaurants that began in Chennai and specializes in Southern Indian cooking has blossomed into 48 locations around the globe.

Called up my old pal Boris “Cast Iron Stomach” Keplinksy and ducked into the svelte new digs. A big space in almost all-beige hues with booth seats at the back, a buffet table running down the centre of the room and an image of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, to greet you at the door.

“It’s nice you invite me to this place,” Boris said. “I need to balance my digestive tract. If I eat another fatted calf, I think I’ll burst.”

“Boris, this joint should lube your chakras perfectly and get you rolling on the spiritual autobahn of your being in no time.”

“Use language like that around me again and I hit you, OK?”

The afternoon buffet is a great way to sample the intrigues and intricacies of South Indian spicing. And at $8.99 for a selection of more than 20 items, it’s a long and winding road through an edible landscape not common on these shores. Idli (cakes of black lentil and rice), doughnut-shaped vada, vatral kozhambu (a Tamil soupy curry), rava kichadi (roasted sooji or semolina cooked with onion, tomato, green chilies, carrots and green peas) or pachadi (chopped veggies cooked up with coconut, chilies, mustard seed and ginger and is a tasty side dish for savoury lentil curry).

I also sampled the Saravanaa Special Meal ($8.95) that came with channa masala, sambar, kulambu (a spicy eggplant curry), puffy poori bread, and more veggie curries that kept me guessing as to their contents. From pungent to sweet, sour to spicy, this place packs it all in with a kaleidoscope of flavours. And the spicing was enough to give old “Cast Iron” a run for the money.

Also check out the dosa (rice crêpes with a perfect texture) listings. I tried the kara dosa with onion and potato, served up with coconut, mint and tomato chutney and sambar. Truly inspiring, as are most of the dishes prepared here, with ingredients and spicing as ethereal and esoteric as a list of Hindu deities. Some of the breads could be served warmer, though.

Mmm. It’s like my tastebuds have just read the Upanishads,” Boris commented.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Meditations on a veggie way of living

RATINGS: Food: B+ Service: B+ Atmosphere: B

© The Vancouver Province 2008