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A taste of Indian Summer

OVER yonder, in the middle of the country, Prime Minister Stephen Harper named 2011 the official "Year of India in Canada.
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Chef Alam Tanweer, owner Par Maroke and chef Girish Prasad dish up tasty Indian cuisine at Handi.

OVER yonder, in the middle of the country, Prime Minister Stephen Harper named 2011 the official "Year of India in Canada."

I was feeling a bit left out of the colourful Bollywood-and Bhangra-themed bash, until a recent press release announced the inaugural Indian Summer Festival in Vancouver, on now until Sunday. According to the release, the Indian arts and culture festival features 10 days of programming, more than 20 events, including free outdoor concerts and workshops, and an expected turnout of more than 10,000 people.

Hosted at the new Goldcorp Centre for the Arts in the historic Woodwards district downtown, Indian Summer "will showcase top contemporary and classical Indian talent in music, dance, theatre, literature, film, visual arts, yoga and cuisine."

Sign me up! India is on my bucket list, thanks to the music, dance, beautiful saris and jewelry, and of course, the food.

On a recent summer evening, I decided to get in the spirit of the celebrations by sliding into a patio chair at Ambleside's Handi Cuisine of India alongside my pals The Godmother and Legs O'Shea. There's little doubt this deck is one of the finest around, with a fresh-air view of Hollyburn Sailing Club and the inlet beyond. We watched the sky blush shy shades of gold and pink while we sipped Riesling, Gewurztraminer and for Legs, a cocktail named (quite aptly) Bombay Sunset.

As we crunched through the ephemeral and lightly spiced batter on Paneer Pakoras ($7), made with cheese, and Fish Pakoras ($10), Legs spotted some tempting looking dishes on our neighbour's table.

"What's that, then?" She inquired, with no hesitation.

"Oh here? This one is Chicken Tikka," replied the diner, gesturing to a sizzling platter of flame-hued cubes of chicken breast.

"No, not that. What's in the wee copper pot?" persisted the Irishwoman. The answer was Dal, lentils. Though Legs wasn't averse to sharing, we made a note to order it next time.

Instead we dug into Handi's butter chicken ($11.95). Let me preface this by saying I know those passionate about Indian cuisine will emphasize there is much more to it than butter chicken; but there is no denying the deliciousness of this dish. There's a reason it's so popular, and this version has the most perfectly spiced and creamy tomato sauce I've tasted. The chunks of boneless chicken swimming in the sauce verged on dry, but it's breast meat, rather than dark, so it's trickier to find that balance.

Regardless, we ladled it over fluffy rice and devoured it, then sopped up the sauce with naan bread.

Prawn Goa Curry was just as good, with fat prawns skinnydipping in a luscious coconut sauce.

Palak Paneer ($11.95) was the ideal third for our trio: an earthy vegetarian blend of spinach and spices, studded with the homemade cheese.

The Godmother and Legs both vote Handi as their top pick for Indian on the North Shore, and the value is terrific as well. Dinner for the three of us was an easy-on-the-pocketbook $103.71, including HST.

Handi Cuisine of India is located at 1340 Marine Dr., West Vancouver. Call 6049255262 for information.

For more information about Indian Summer, please visit www.IndianSummerFestival.ca.

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I'm reluctant to share this news, because I don't want to hurt my own chances of purchasing tickets for what is sure to be a sold-out show, but bad boy chef Anthony Bourdain is coming to town Oct. 29. The author and host of Travel and Escape Channel's No Reservations will visit The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts and share candid and often hysterical insights about his life's work and travels, including an open question and answer session with the audience.

Tickets go on sale this Friday, July 15, at 10 a.m., with prices ranging from $47.50 to $152.50 for VIP packages.

Tickets will be available by phone at 1-855-985-5000 or online at Ticketmaster.ca.

Le Gavroche restaurant offers a three-course menu featuring snow crab for $39 until July 17. Wine pairings are an additional $25. Reservations: www.opentable. com/le-gavroche or 604-685-3924. Le Gavroche is located at 1616 Alberni St., Vancouver.

Enchanted Evenings Dinner Package: This package includes a pre-concert menu from Wild Rice Restaurant and a ticket to the "Enchanted Evenings" music series on Fridays until Sept. 2 at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Packages are $46 and can be purchased by calling 604-662-3207 ext. 209.

Bastille Day: Celebrate the French national holiday with a three-course dinner Thursday, July 14 with seatings at 5: 306: 30 p.m. or 8-9 p.m. at Bistro Pastis, 2153 West Fourth Ave., Vancouver. Dinner is $45 with an optional winepairing for an additional $29. Reservations: 604-731-5020 or www.bistropatis.com.

A Perfect Blend: Local cuisine and boutique wines will take centre stage at Sun Peaks Resort during the fourth annual Wine and Culture Festival July 15-17. Friday evening's kick-off includes hand-crafted tapas and wines from around the province. Salmon barbecues will take place on Saturday and Sunday, and a showcase of music, and arts and crafts takes place all weekend. For information or to book accommodations, call 1-800-807-3257 or email info@sunpeaksresort.com.

dlancaster@nsnews.com