Connor Butler – Restaurant Review

John reviews Connor Butler –

On Thursday night, July 31, 2008, we chose to continue our anniversary celebration by booking a table at Restaurant Connor Butler, a small, relatively new (2 years old) restaurant just over the Granville St. Bridge south of downtown Vancouver.
 
Since we had booked on the early side, there was lots of opportunity to interact with both the sommelier, Ron Douglas, and with the chef, Connor Butler himself.  It was just the start of an extraordinary evening, rivalling our earlier experience at Cyrus in every respect.

We started with an amuse-bouche which included, among others, an anchovy-stuffed sour cherry, which was quite good.  The others I cannot recall.

Chef Connor was interesting, engaging and animated.  He said he had some items not listed on the menu: foie gras and duck.  Intrigued by the notion of duck and duck, we asked if he could prepare a foie gras appetizer and a duck main, and that we preferred items savory rather than sweet.  And, we would like Sommelier Ron to pair wines for us.

After another bit of amuse, a slice of nicely seared tuna, the appetizers arrived.  The foie was accompanied by sauteed purple potato dice, small bites of bacon and morel mushrooms in a simple pan reduction.  The result was astounding, and this time the morels were in perfect balance (see previous review of Fireside Grill).

Ron brought three wines to sample: an Alsatian Gewurztraminer, a German Riesling Spatlese, and the sweetest, a French desserty wine.  In the end, we went preferred the last one, since it most resembled the traditional Sauterne in terms of sweetness and viscous texture that we like with foie gras.

The main course was seared sliced breast of duck, served with potato puree, garnished with a few sour cherries, citrus supremes, and pickled golden beets.  This was incredibly tasty: the best-cooked duck we’ve ever had, with the potato puree retaining its identity rather than merely dissolving into the pan jus, as sometimes happens.

Ron paired this with a BC Pinot Noir that did justice to all the flavors on the plate, from the succulence of the duck to the vegetal acidity of the beets. 

We finished with a plate of three delicious cheeses from Vancouver Island (where, perversely, Victoria IS and Vancouver IS NOT).  We followed this with a stint at the bar drinking cognac and grappa and chatting with the chef and the sommelier.

Couldn’t have been better.  (John: A+, Mary: A+)

Thursday, July 31, 2008 – VanDusen Botanical Garden

         


VanDusen Botanical Garden
 Originally uploaded by marymompics

 

John has said that we seem to have themes to different segments of our trip. First there was the lighthouse section, then the bridge section,  then the Olympic Peninsula section and now the garden section. The VanDusen Botanical Garden is very different from the Butchart Gardens. It’s not all perfect flowers but runs the gamut of everything botanical. Some things are in bloom and some have gone to seed. There are vegetables. Things are labeled (they are not labeled at Butchart Gardens and that is very frustrating.) But it is just as beautiful if not in the same tidy way.
Van Dusen rose

Tonight we are going to dinner at the Connor Butler Restaurant. It specializes in cuisine from the Northwest. We will, of course, mention that we are celebrating our anniversary. You never know what tasty freebies you might get.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 – Vancouver


Vancouver

Originally uploaded by marymompics

For some reason I didn’t take any pictures today. So even though it looks like I went to some nearby mountain or boarded a helicopter to take this picture, it’s actually just one off the internet. Anyway, that’s Vancouver. The setting is fabulous, the architecture not so much. I also enjoy the blue sky. It’s certainly not blue today.

Once again we arrived by ferry. It must be hard to live on an island and have to pay almost $70 when you and your spouse and your car want to go somewhere else.

We really didn’t do much today except make the trip here and check into the hotel. We ordered some food in and watched So You Think You Can Dance. Another exciting day!

Fireside Grill – Saanich, BC – Dinner 7/28/08

 

Our hosts at the Gazebo Bed and Breakfast recommended a nearby restaurant in Saanich, BC, the Fireside Grill.  Housed in an attractive, Tudor-style structure, it seemed to offer Creative Northwest-influenced dishes, just what we were seeking.

A new menu had just been introduced that day.  This has not always yielded great results in our experience, but it looked good anyway.  The appetizer page looked especially appealing, so we decided to create our meal from starters alone.

Here’s what we had:

An order of flatbread with the spread of the day.  Nicely toasted and seasoned, the flatbread wedges were served with a blueberry cream cheese.  Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!  Anyone who follows our culinary adventures should know that we’re not fans of sweet things, and we especially avoid sweet spreads (and sweet bagels for that matter).  But we were WRONG.  The fresh cream cheese had some goat cheese mixed in, and the blueberries behaved more as a savory (or should we say savoury?) herb than as a sweet fruit.  A beautiful concoction; we were wowed.

Next, our salads: an organic green salad sprinkled with small roasted pumkinseeds for John, and a roasted red beet, lettuce and goat cheese salad for Mary.  The only quibble was that a mix of beet types would have been even better.

Finally, as our main course, we both had the Organic Foie Gras and Qualicum Beach Scallops, with morel mushrooms and sweet peas.  The foie gras and the scallops were delicious and perfectly cooked (we’re very picky about these).  The sweet peas were a nice addition, again perfectly cooked.  The morels were tasty, but perhaps they could have taken a less aggressive role in the dish.

All in all, an excellent meal.  (John: A-, Mary:A-)

Monday, July 28, 2008 – On to Victoria

    


Port Angeles ferryOriginally uploaded by marymompics

Today we caught the ferry from Port Angeles, WA to Victoria, BC. We had made a reservation and I am glad we did. There are only three crossings a day and a lot of people had to wait until the next ferry. The trip was pretty uneventful although out in the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca the ship rolled a lot.

Since it was too early to check into our B & B, we followed a sign which read, “Centre of the Universe, 1500 m” with an arrow pointing to the right. Well, how can you pass up a sign like that? Especially since I know we are visiting another center of the universe in Idaho. Unfortunately this particular Center of the Universe is closed on Mondays. So we only have a picture of what we know is the real center of our universe.

Center of the Universe

We checked into our inn, the Gazebo Bed and Breakfast. It is run by a very nice Canadian/British couple who were very helpful with things to do, places to go and where to eat. The room is very nice and the gardens around the house are lovely. The downside is that the internet connection is functioning only occasionally which is strange. John hacked into their system but couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Ergo, this post and the ones to follow are being written from Vancouver.

Gazebo Bed and Breakfast

 

Sunday, July 27, 2008 – Forks, WA SPECIAL EDITION

    


Mary Clark Rd.Originally uploaded by marymompics

We are riding along on a fairly deserted road near the Olympic National Park when what do we see? A road named Mary Clark Road! Wow! A road named after me. So, of course ,we took it for a short ways. My road had trees and bushes lining it. Also a couple of dirt roads came off of it. Someone had littered. But I am immortalized. How many people have a road. I wonder who she actually is (was).
 

Mary Clark Rd. 2

Sunday, July 27, 2008 – Olympic National Park


Hoh Rain Forest

Originally uploaded by marymompics

Just a quick post to say that the Hoh Rain Forest in the Olympic National Park is amazing. We took a short hike on the Moss Trail and the scenery was spectacular. There was moss hanging everywhere. It was abundantly green. And everything is gigantic. Trees here grow way bigger because of the conditions. There are spruces that are 300 feet high! And because it is a rain forest, it rained on cue. But the leafy canopy is so thick that few raindrops reach the ground. At Passover John always tells the story of Rabbi Akiba who walked between the rain drops to fool the Romans. In the rain forest it was actually possible!

Saturday, July 26, 2008 – Port Angeles, WA

I’ve been playing catch-up with my blogging as our cottage doesn’t have internet.  If there is one thing I’ve learned on this trip, it’s don’t book a place that doesn’t have internet and always get a king-sized bed.  Our charming cottage has neither but it is clean and cute.  It is also quite isolated and we haven’t had to interact with the other guests  or the hosts much.  We see this as a plus.  Here’s a picture of our cottage, the Morning Dove.

Morning Dove

Today we went to the Olympic National Park and hiked up to the Marymere Falls.  How could we not?  Marymom does Marymere.  Anyway, I have discovered how incredibly out of hiking shape I am.  It was only about 2 miles.  Only the last part was really steep and only a couple hours later I am hurting quite a bit.  I guess tennis muscles don’t help hiking.  Below is a picture of the falls.  The park is enormous with Mount Olympus at the center.  Tomorrow we will go to the Hoh Rain Forest.  It should be fairly dripping with moss and verdant growth.

Marymere waterfall

Lastly, we went to the Arts in Motion fair in downtown Port Angeles.  Two fairs in one week, it has to be a record for us.  There were the usual crafty things to buy, local talent on the stage and fair food but, there was also a sand sculpture contest!  It was great.  We saw these really large sand sculptures made in the shapes of cavemen, babies, musicians and the one that we voted for which was entitled “Jazz,” and was kind of cubist representation of the theme.

Cubist sand art, Port Angeles

We also found out today that there is WiFi in the main lodge of the B & B so we are all set! (except for the queen size bed.)

Friday, July 25, 2008 – Astoria, OR to Port Angeles, WA


EEK! Astoria Bridge

Originally uploaded by marymompics

So to give John a break, I took the wheel for the first part of our journey today. First, I drove up a really steep ramp with a curve in it, then I drove to the really high top of the two lane bridge and then coasted down and across. Yeah, sure I did. John drove and it made me feel sick just to be a passenger.

Most of today was spent getting to Port Angeles, WA. It wasn’t as long a trip as the GPS said it would be but it still took the better part of the day. We broke up the trip by a short stop to look at the Pacific County Courthouse in South Bend, WA, an old locomotive in McCleary, WA and lunch at Gwennie’s in Sequim. There, with what seemed to be the entire senior population of Sequim, we had a fresh Dungeness crab melt with avocado sandwich. It was quite good.

We got to our Hidden Haven B & B at 3PM but our instructions told us that there would be no checking in until 4 PM so we did some wine tasting at the Black Diamond Winery. The wine was mostly forgettable although we did buy a rhubarb wine. Then we stopped at the store to pick up something to cook for dinner, checked in, watched tennis and collapsed.

Thursday, July 24, 2008 – Astoria, Oregon

After checking out of the Rosebriar Inn, we started our tour of Astoria.  There are many Victorian houses and a large column, the Astoria Column, at the highest point in town.  It shows the founding of Astoria and honors Clark and Lewis.  (Lewis gets way too much credit and I’m a Clark.)

Astoria column

Then we went to Fort Clatsop where Clark and Lewis wintered in 1805.  They really don’t know the exact site but it was an interesting little National Park.  From there we went to Fort Stevens State Park to see the wreck of the Peter Iredale, a  British ship that ran into trouble in 1905.  The picture is the hulk of the ship on the sand looking from one end to the other.

Peter Iredale shipwreck

We then went out and looked at the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean, had fish and chips (meh) for lunch and checked into our new hotel, the Holiday Inn Express, where it’s “a good thing to sleep under a bridge.”  This is a picture taken out of the window in our room.  Yay! for clean. Yay! for big, comfortable king bed. And yay! for no ants!

Under the bridge

 

Wednesday, July 23, 2008 – Oregon Coast


Alsea Interpretive Center

Originally uploaded by marymompics

When we looked at our GPS, the demonic “Missy” told us that we had about 250 miles to go today and it would take over 6 hours. Huh, that seemed like a long time. But by the time we stopped and had breakfast and lunch and looked at the Alsea Bay Bridge Interpretive Center and Tillamook Cheese Factory, it took us over 8 hours to get from Bandon to Astoria, Oregon.

John was really great about doing all the driving. Between the cliffs and the high bridges, there was no way I was going to participate.

First we stopped at the Kountry Kitchen for an awful breakfast. Will I never learn? Never eat at a restaurant called “Kitchen” and never, never eat at a place that thinks it’s cute to misspell things.

Our next stop was at the Alsea Bay Bridge Interpretive Center. Conde McCullough was the architect for most of the bridges along US 101 in Oregon. In fact, we had seen a program about him and his bridges on Modern Marvels. They are art deco masterpieces. The Center explained the history of the bridges and the building of the Alsea replacement bridge. The McCullough bridge had been built with the wrong mix of concrete and had begun to fail. Anyway, really interesting.

The Oregon coast is really beautiful and very wild. The road is windy with lots of grade and the little towns really slow you down. A speeding tourist is a real revenue opportunity.

We also stopped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory . There was a self-guided tour and lots of people. We didn’t spend too much time here.

Finally we got to Astoria with its looming bridge across the Columbia River. We checked into the Rosebriar Inn. I had booked the Carriage House. Not clean, not comfortable and with giant carpenter ants. No way we are spending two nights here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2008 – Coos County Fair

Will the fun never end?  Having lived within a mile of the Alameda County Fairgrounds for the last 15 years, we have only once gone to the fair.  And that was only because Jonathan was singing there.  But we’re on vacation!  Time to do wild and crazy things.  So today we bundled up and headed to the fair which was about 25 miles inland from here – in the middle of nowhere.  Who would come to this fair?  Judging from the parking lot, a lot of people from Oregon, one car from California, and one car in stealth mode with Utah plates (ours).

Now here’s something you may not know.  When John was at MIT he was in a fraternity and had nicknames.  One was Ponch, for Pontius Pilate and the other was llama because of a long upper lip.  Now I’ve never thought of John’s upper lip as freakishly long but I took a picture of a county fair llama.  You be the judge.

Namesake

We enjoyed looking at the animals and watching girls on horseback doing dressage.  We went to a technical judging of llamas and learned lots of new facts about them.  For instance, their offspring are called crias.  We saw sheep that looked like Cousin It.  We looked at lots of jarred fruit and vegetables as well as platesful of cookies.  There were quilts and knitted garments.  Almost everything had some sort of ribbon on it.  It seemed much like when the kids were on swim team.  You got a ribbon no matter what.  Yay, seventh place out of seven.  Perhaps we never taught them how to deal with defeat.

Finally, we watched a guy do chainsaw art.  He started with his big chainsaw and gradually worked down to the more precise chainsaws.  He never paused.  Never stepped back to evaluate his work.  He just kept sawing at his masterpiece until it became a bear holding a “welcome” sign.  You’ll notice that he’s concerned about his hearing but not so much his eyesight.

Chainsaw carving

Tomorrow we head up to Astoria, Oregon.  The sun finally came out today around 5 PM and we are hoping for warmer (but not too warm) weather in the future.

Monday, July 21, 2008 – Bandon, Oregon


Cold man and the sea

Originally uploaded by marymompics

We have a house right across a park from the ocean. If there were actually a sun, we could see it set. The weather has been rather totally marine layer and the sun never made it out today. But intrepid travelers that we are, we went to the park and down the cliff to the beach. The picture tells it all.

Along with freezing at the beach, we went into downtown Bandon, had lunch and did some shopping. As doting parents and grandparents we are always on the lookout for some piece of vacation schlock to foist upon our kids – only good presents for Nathan. (Actually we try to get our kids some nice stuff too.) We also went to the Coquille Point lighthouse. That’s pronounced KO KWELL, not like the famous French dish Coquille Saint Jacques. Apparently the native Americans here were more into subsistence than haute cuisine.

We found out that the Coos County Fair is opening tomorrow and we think maybe we’ll go check it out. There are probably some mighty fine presents to be had there!

Sunday, July 20, 2008 – Cape Blanco Lighthouse

  


Cape Blanco lighthouse

Originally uploaded by marymompics

 Today we wended our way up the Oregon coast. We stopped for some coffee in Crescent City, CA on our way to Oregon. Many years ago we spent a vacation in Crescent City. We wanted to see if the place had improved at all. It hasn’t. Most store fronts are vacant and the place has the look of a deserted beach town. If Eureka lacks good weather and accessibility, then Crescent City is inclement and desolate.

We visited the Cape Blance lighthouse in southern Oregon. The town nearby, Port Orford, is the further west of any incorporated town in the contiguous United States. The lighthouse, which is out on a point of land, is subject to extremely high winds. Extremely high. Although the picture looks quite calm, the wind had to be blowing at a steady 35 to 40 mph with gusts higher. Add to that the fact that it was in the 50’s and you’ve got some uncomfortable weather.

So we took the tour and then hurried back and huddled in the car. I think when I was planning this trip I was hoping for something between St. George weather (100+) and winter (here).

Saturday, July 19, 2008 – Eureka, California

Today when we woke up the marine layer was in.  Yay!  I am really hoping that the cooler moist air will help to soothe my lungs.  I have been having constant asthma problems ever since the fires here in California started.  In fact on the way up here, we passed through miles and miles of murky, smoky air.  There was a fire base camp with hundreds of small tents for the firefighters to get a few hours of rest.  It must be a really difficult job.  Anyway, the moist air from the Pacific is covering Eureka and will probably remain until this afternoon.  And I’m glad.

Marine layer

This morning we went to the Blue Ox Millworks.  We were treated to a personal tour by the owner, Eric Hollenbeck, who had quite a bit of acclaim in the 90’s being televised explaining his craft and honored by President Clinton on Earth Day. Here’s a picture of John standing by Paul Bunyan at the Blue Ox.

Blue Ox

The shop does both new and restoration work.  The machines in the shop date from the 1800’s to the mid-1900’s. They make their own knives for the woodworking machines and their own stains.  They also run a program for at-risk youth.  The mill is an alternative high school.  The kids learn a trade and all their academics through a hands-on program.  On the grounds are many exhibits including a rose garden.

Blue Ox rose garden

After lunch we did a walking tour of downtown Eureka.  I had printed the tour off the internet and was the envy of other tourists. Since our condo is in a great location, the tour started right outside our door.  We walked all over downtown and then took a ride to the Carson Mansion.     

                                        Carson Mansion   

 Finally, we took a ride out to the beach.  As you can see, the beach is a pretty uncrowded place.

Uncrowded beach

An interesting aspect of the beach here is that after Pearl Harbor was attacked, there was a lot of fear that the west coast would be attacked.  For protection, ammunition bunkers were built and the coast guard patrolled the beaches watching for submarines.

WWII bunkers, Samoa, CA

So all in all Eureka has been a pretty interesting place.  There are Victorian houses, a working harbor, WWII history, and the lumber industry.  We ate out at the Lost Coast Brewery Pub and stayed in a condo on the waterfront in the middle of the historic district for about as much as you would pay for a good hotel.  Here’s a picture of our condo.  It’s on the second floor in the middle.  The picture is taken from the Eureka boardwalk.  Eureka only needs sunnier weather and more accessibility to become a tourist haven.

Bayfront One 

Friday, July 18, 2008 – Eureka, California

After getting up bright and early and snagging some breakfast at the hotel, we headed up to Eureka.  On the way, we took the Avenue of the Giants, a road through magnificent coastal redwoods.  We stopped to walk into the forest a little and take some pictures.  John looks very tiny!

Tiny Zayde

Later, we stopped at the Visitor’s Center where there was a tree that had fallen down.  The rings were marked with various historical dates.  The tree had been born in 1187 so it had been alive through a lot of history. 

Tree rings

 Inside the visitor center, there was an exhibit about a man, Charles Kellogg, who had been instrumental in saving the redwoods.  He even built a truck out of a redwood and drove around promoting his cause.  The odd thing, though, is that this man could vocalize bird songs and is the only known man to extinguish a flame with his voice.  Until, that is, our Jon extinguished a flame on MythBusters last year!  Wow, what a coincidence.

Voice flame extinguisher

We arrived in Eureka around 4 PM also stopping in Scotia, a Pacific Lumber Company owned town.  And Ferndale which is a totally Victorian town, really cute and well preserved.  We are staying in a condo here and it’s right on the harbor.  Here’s the view out our window. 

Eureka view  

 

 

 

Thursday, July 17, 2008 – Healdsburg, California

We started our trip with a stop at Imagery Winery to pick up a wine club shipment.  We like Imagery a lot, it has many interesting varietals.  Since it was lunchtime, we sat on their patio and had lunch.  Since it was our anniversary, we had a bottle of wine.

Picnicking at Imagery Winery 

Then we headed on up to Chateau St. Jean and tasted some wine on their back patio. 

On the porch at Chateau St. Jean

Later, we had a fabulous dinner at Cyrus in Healdsburg.  We’ve been there several times before and have never been disappointed.  John had Thai marinated lobster with avocado, melon and hearts of palm, sea bass with sweet corn and spring onions, mussel and saffron sauce, pompano with cannelini beans, trotters and crayfish glaze, and rabbit ballotine with agnolotti and chanterelles with an olive oil froth.  I had the lobster as well and also the sea bass but I also had a terrine of foie gras with lychee and tamarind and toasted crumpets and a crispy poussin with potato puree, haricots verts and morels.  We started with champagne and then had the sommelier pair wine with the rest of it.  It was great!  We also had amuse bouche, a cucumber gelee, some sort of popsicle palate cleanser and bunch of tidbit desserts (which we didn’t order.)  Even though the portions are not large at all, we were really, really full by the end.

It was a pretty perfect day.  Happy Anniversary John! Toasting our 36th

 

ANNIVERSARY EVE

Tomorrow’s the big day.  36 years!  Wow.  I am so happy.  How wonderful it is to have found the person who is just perfect for you.  We’re both odd ducks but we quack harmoniously. 

Our big trip starts tomorrow as well.  We start off in Wine Country with a visit to our favorite wineries and then an overnight in Healdsburg.  We will be dining at Cyrus in Healdsburg, definitely on my “A” list.  

So hopefully I’ll be taking some pictures as we head up the Pacific coast.  I have lots of adventures planned and also a lot of laid back vacation time.  I am probably the only one who plans when not to do something.  Oh well, I’m not apoligizing for it today. 

Ciao!