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That's One Way to Breed Loyalty...

My coworkers know someone who works at the Cactus Club Cafe, and asked if we'd be interested in a tasting evening. I wasn't so sure about it, or what it would entail, but free food is free food, so I was in. And I was blown away. Quite possibly, - no, quite certainly - this was the most culinary experience I have ever had. Treating food as an experience makes eating much more enjoyable.

Turns out their friend Will is chef/kitchen manager of the head Cactus Club, where dishes are born and Rob Feenie is the newest staff addition, as their Food Concept Architect. And yes, he was there while we were.

Food I tasted (I don't remember the names, but here are brief descriptions):
  • Yam fries with garlic mayo
  • Mini burgers with well-spiced chuck meat burger patties.
  • Ahi something-something with tropical fruits in a fried gyoza shell (kind of like a high end fish taco, from someone in Tofino.)
  • West Coast Pockets - the most delicious smoked salmon I've ever had, with sushi rice in a fried tofu pocket. (Sounds strange, but it's really quite amazing.)
  • Spaghettini with Scallops and Shrimp (Wow wow wow wow wow! And I don't usually like seafood.)
  • House Salad with Lemon-Thyme dressing
  • Braised Beef on Sourdough with Au Jus (that had warm hints of cinnamon, which was delicious)
  • Arugula Salad with Lemon Chicken Breast
  • Spinach Salad with Prosciutto and Figs
- break time for a tour of the kitchen & creative space -
  • Pork with Apples, Mashed Potatoes, Asparagus, Carrots & Beets
  • Steak with demi-glaze, Potatoes & Asparagus
  • Key Lime Pie
  • Chocolate Lava Cake with Vanilla Gelato
  • Ice Cream Sundae with Candied Pecans, Bananas, and Bernard Callebaut Chocolate Sauce
Drinks I Sipped:
  • Granville Island Beer (exclusive brew of some variety just for Cactus Club)
  • Double Peach Bellini (possibly my favourite)
  • The Bajillion (I believe that was it's name. Kiwi & Lime made it soooo refreshing)
  • Some cocktail I forget with Blackberries & Spearmint. (It was mediocre. And some preferred the accidental coconut infusion.)
  • Double Margarita with fresh lime ingredients.
  • A 2006 Pinot Noir, possibly from New Zealand.
  • Water. With Ice.
Things I Learned:
  • Simple Syrup and Coconut Syrup look similar. (Which is why our first forgettable cocktail tasted like Pina Colada instead of mint.)
  • How much are the contents of a commercial fridge worth? 20 grand, if you're at the Cactus Club. (also to note: the freezer has perhaps a quarter the space of the fridge, indicating that most ingredients are fresh.)
  • Garlic mayo: $0.04/oz - Demi-glaze: $1.17/oz
  • Demi-glaze is one of five main sauce bases. The other four are hollandaise, tomato-base, bechamel, and another - made of flour, butter & chicken stock.
  • It takes at least 30 minutes for a kitchen staff to squeeze enough key limes for a pie (each key lime gives maybe 10ml of juice).
  • Pasta shouldn't be rinsed. That gets rid of the starch, and starch is what holds the sauce to the pasta. In Italy, less sauce is used, but pasta dishes are still flavourful because of this. And also because the pasta is cooked with salt and oil.
  • The Cactus Club is the largest private owner of Andy Warhol works. At the top of the stairs to the bathroom is a print worth $60 000.
  • You don't need cooking experience to get hired here. You need confidence, an easy-going personality, the ability to multi-task, and a willingness to work hard & learn. (anyone interested?)
There is more. I'm sure there is. But it is late, and I am forgetting.

Will was an amazing host (turns out he even went to the good ol' U of G!) - helpful, informative, and didn't make us feel dumb for not knowing the fine details of the demi-glaze. The company was enjoyable (hurrah for coworkers), I feel like an unofficial Cactus Club ambassador (I think that was their goal), and I know have a connection. If I ever want to head there again...I can pretty much guarantee good service. And possibly some free desserts.


MLW said…
That sounds awesome! A true gastronomical delight! Wow, Wow, Wow!
Karen said…
I think I would have passed out just before the tour of the kitchen. It's a good thing I wasn't there. My unabashed squealing might have shamed the rest of the party.

Another interesting note about making pasta: many Italian establishments have their own large vat of "pasta water" that all the pasta is boiled in, along with bits and ends from other things like shrimp tails, etc. This pasta water flavours the pasta like no other--a bit of it even gets tossed into the sauce to give it that extra somethin'.

Good to know it takes a restaurant pro just as much time to squeeze up key lime juice as the average home cook.
Tofino said…
The fish tacos and i believe also the west coast pockets were developed by Lisa Ahier from Sobo in Tofino for Cactus Club a while back...

Try to check out the original there if you happen to be in Tofino! Her recipe was also published in Tofino's local magazine. Go to and search for 'fish taco'. Watch out, they're addictive... ;-)
Beth said…
Yes, I believe that's right! Thanks for the additional info :)

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