I have just returned from a 6 day trip to Vancouver, BC and neighboring Victoria Island. Vancouver is a very clean vibrant modern city. The food cooked in the restaurants here is one of the reasons this is the case. Also, there seems to be a real distinctive aesthetic to the design of the places we visited and ate at. You will find a lot of young energetic professionals enjoying gathering in favorite eating places that are fun, interactive and boast strong creative menus and cocktail programs. All in all, we had no bad food, anywhere! This is partly due to the generosity of local food & travel writer Shelora Sheldan. Shelora, provided an "insiders scoop" to a number of great restaurant options. Being that I am a native San Franciscan, I found Vancouver to have a similar feel from a geographical perspective and a climate perspective. It is a port town with a vibrant waterfront. Views are pretty spectacular from all around and it is a very easy place to get a round. We never rented a car but instead we walked, took a taxi, rode bikes, ferry, or the rail.
**Full Disclaimer: I never let any place we visited know that I was a chef or restaurateur. Not always but, more often than not, if a place knows this, especially if it is a Chef/Driven operation, I get some sort of preferential treatment so, this was a good test to go as a regular annonomys customer. Besides, it is kind of fun flying below the radar in restaurants to just watch & learn. I am afterall, a life long student of the business. Also, in order to write about the number of places we visited, I refrain from a full blown review of specific dishes and service but rather focus on the name, general vibe of the place and discription. Assume that if it is mentioned here, it is a worthwhile destination. I also found there is a seemingly new breed of restaurant, most of which we visited have departed from the "traditional model" with a structured menu. These places operate with a "unstructured" approach allowing great flexiblility for you the diner, as well as for the kitchen to put out plates as quick as they are ready. If you prefer "structure" you must communicate that with your waitperson.
First night, dinner at Wildebeest. Wildebeest is hip restaurant with a sophisticated approach to farm fresh food and meat-centric focus. Whole animal cookery is central to its core set in a refurbished 19th Century building. Located on a busy street in the Gastown district, you could easily pass right by it if you are not looking for it. Besides an innovative cocktail list, there is a well chosen wine list and conscientous wine service. Nightly, there is a hand written ""Fresh Sheet," that has unusual cuts available from the kitchen in limited quantities. So, I suggest you get there early to have the best selection. There is an obvious focus on good responsible sourcing of ingredients as well, which more often than not, a prerequisite for me. We sat at the bar for dinner as it is a small space and we didn't have a reservation. A creative craft cocktail list and a well chosen wine list were offered. We ordered a good number of dishes from the menu. I like to order mostly small plates as I find it not only fun to sample more dishes but also get a good perspective on the kitchen's philosophy and ability to execute. All dishes were skillfully prepared, well seasoned and nicely presented. A very good start to our visit!
The next morning, we trekked by foot across the Granville St. Bridge to South Vancouver Island, to the highly recommended Beaucoup Bakery. Please keep in mind, not every place in BC accepts American dollars if you didn't get Canadian Dollars from an ATM. I was met with an un-enthusiastic "we don't accept American dollars here." But, after a moment of panic, realized they gladly accept debit & credit cards. Aside from getting our coffee order wrong after all of that commotion, I had perhaps what was the best Croissant I have ever put in my mouth. In fact it was a Pain au Chocolat, flaky, buttery and a generous amount of really good chocolate inside. The Scone we had was equally amazing as were the cookies we took away with us. Well worth a visit to this fantastic bakery & patisserie. It is very close, within a short 5 minute walk from the Granville Island Public Market.
Granville Public Market is a worthwhile place to visit whether it is just to wander amongst the vendors and food stalls or to actually shop for ingredients! There are ethnic specialties ranging from charcuterie to meats, poultry & fish to fresh vegetables and lots of prepared food options for a meal while you are
A great place for a good affordable and delicious lunch is Bestie. Bestie is a place that specializes in Currywurst. There is also a nice well chosen selection of beers on tap that compliment the various options. Oddly enough, Bestie is located in Chinatown of Vancouver. This is fun & delicious German streetfood. The sides that accompany the various wursts are crispy fries, delicious pickles and nice salads. It is run by a Brit Chef with creds and a friendly knowledgeable staff.
Our next dinner was at a very urban place called Pidgin. Farm & Sea, fresh focus with a strong Asian accent & modern technique show there is a high skill level in this kitchen. Carefully sourced ingredients, immaculate preparations & a fun artisan craft cocktail program. The room is relatively small with a smart urban-rustic design.The restaurant boasts a social responsibility message on it's website but, on the night we ate there, protests outside the restaurant were taking place with signs being placed on the windows for patrons inside to view. It looks like there is still a lot of work for Pidgin to do in this area. The food and service here are quite good. The menu had a wonderful East-West approach with a distinctive style.
The following day, I was on a serious mission to find the original Japadog stand. We had success! Located at the intersection of Burrard & Smithe, as we approached, I felt my heart beginning to race with excitement! Yes! There was a line of people standing and waiting to order and pickup their order. It was fun to watch people sitting on whatever they could find nearby steps, planters and ledges, blissfully enjoying their Japadogs. We enjoyed the Kurobuta Terimayo & Kobe Beef Special. I will borrow a quote from Anthony Bourdain, "They did not suck!". Well worth a special trip to enjoy what is fast becoming a Vancouver icon, and can now be found in New York.
While in the mood for Asian food, there is know surprise that Vancouver has amazing options. There is a good size Chinatown neighborhood where you can find many of them. We opted for a place that was highly recommended by both our food & travel writer friend, as well as other friends in the restaurant biz. It is called Bao-Bei Chinese Brasserie. We had actually tried to come the day before for lunch unbeknownst to us, it only serves dinner. We decided to return and it was a very good decision. It is a rather smallish space as is most of the restaurants we visited. It has the feeling that it is much older than it is, almost like you're eating in a back alley with potential illicit acts occuring behind its doors. This mystique created an exciting eating experience which began with tasty cocktails from yet another inventive craft cocktail list. This seems to be a reoccuring theme amongst the restaurants here as it is in the states and I find it to be quite refreshing. Lots of thought being put into what gets served not only in the kitchen but also from the bar. The drinks served in vintage glasses had a wonderful aesthetic. We ordered a lot of food from the thoughtful menu packed with very delicious sounding selections. I will say, the hand made dumplings & steamed buns with pork belly are a must. Every dish we tried was absolutely delicious! Bao-Bei in Chinese means "precious". I'll go with that!
We then strolled down the street through the Chinatown Night Market. Lots of stalls selling everything from clothing & trinkets to food. It definitely gave a feel of community and seeing locals and visitors comingling and enjoying the festivities.
Our last meal in Downtown Vancouver was at the meat-centric restaurant L'Abattoir ( French for slaughterhouse) located in the Gastown district. Located in a really cool 19th century building which was the site of Vancouver's first jail. The neighborhood was once the main butchery & meat packing district. Again, another restaurant that has done a remarkable job re-purposing a space to create a reflective ode to the past, lend a seemingly high degree of authenticity in its approach without feeling contrived. Again, a very serious craft cocktail program, a very smart wine list and a menu that it is forward thinking while reaching back to classics. Unlike the previous restaurants with their more "un-structured" and interactive approach with the menu. Meaning, the food mostly small plate format, will come out when ready or as instructed, rather than a traditional sequenced meal. Here, a more traditional or sequenced approach, is the method of operation and it was a nice change of pace actually. We moved from Cold dishes, then to Warm, then to Main. I will warn you, the portions are quite a bit larger than expected and the cooking is deliciously rich. You may want to engage in questions with your waitperson. Our service here was very good & had a somewhat casual air to it, nothing wrong with that. I did feel that given the elevated status of the food and the fact that it was more traditional menu in format, the service detail should dial up a notch or two. Minor suggestion, the experience was great!
My next post will be Eating on Victoria Island. A beautiful place just a short ferry ride from Downtown Vancouver.