Vancouver’s Dining Surprises

 

 
Blue Water Cafe
Blue Water Cafe in Yaletown is known for its innovative West Coast plates, which use seafood from wild and sustainable harvest.

 

Chefs such as Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten are moving in on the Vancouver dining scene. We say fine by us! After all, it’s not just any city that gets the opportunity to welcome these star-wattage chefs. Boulud, the man behind New York’s ultra-fab Restaurant Daniel, has taken his namesake restaurants to London, Beijing, Las Vegas, Miami and, a few years ago, back to Vancouver, where he already operated the high-end West Sider, Lumière. This time he comes to the city with a db Bistro Moderne outpost—and we can’t resist his signature db burger (filled with braised short ribs and topped with black truffle), his tarte flambées and the charcuterie that’s becoming ubiquitous in restaurants throughout the city.

 

 

Vancouver Food Festivals

Dine Out Vancouver: Annual event with a few hundred restaurants offering three-course meals. Held annually in January or February at venues throughout the city.

Vancouver Wine & Jazz Festival: Jazz performances, fine art and cuisine from area restaurants. August 21-29, in Esther Short Park.

Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival: One of the largest wine festivals in the world with wine tastings, pairings, gourmet lunches and dinners and culinary competitions. March 28-April 3, 2011, at the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Vancouver Farmers Markets: Weekly summer and twice-monthly winter farmers’ markets. East Vancouver, West End, Main Street Station and Kitsilano.

 

 

Meanwhile, last year, Jean-Georges debuted an outpost of his rapidly expanding Market by Jean-Georges franchise in downtown’s Shangri-La Hotel. It comes complete with the expected power scene, gorgeous dining space and modern French menu, including a six-course tasting menu (think foie gras brûlée).

But it’s not just these celeb chefs that have put Vancouver on the culinary map. Over the past five years, there’s been an explosive growth in the food scene overall, Eric Pateman, founder of Edible British Columbia Culinary Experiences, tells Luxury Travel Advisor.

Dirty Apron
Dirty Apron is a cooking school, which offers high-end, hands-on cooking and dining experiences.

It’s also a multicultural scene, says Chef David Robertson, co-owner of the Dirty Apron Cooking School, which offers high-end, hands-on cooking and dining experiences. Vancouver excels in Chinese, Korean, Japanese and sushi, offering some of the best in North America, adds Robertson. Restaurateurs here have also caught on to the contemporary trend of using locally sourced ingredients and concocting palate-pleasing cocktails.

But be sure to book well in advance. At the city’s better restaurants—particularly high-enders in Yaletown, such as top-shelf veterans Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill and Blue Water Cafe and Raw Bar, and the West Side’s Bishop’s and West—diners should make reservations a week or two in advance.

West
West offers regional cuisine and has a Mobil four-star rating.

From East Side to Gastown and Richmond

Some of the better recent restaurant openings are in neighborhoods which weren’t frequented by serious diners in the past. The East Side is one such area that has undergone an evolution. We love Campagnolo, the northern Italian newcomer from Chef Robert Belcham and sommelier Tom Doughty. The Fare: Rustic eats, inspired by the Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont regions, grace the menu. Another East Side newbie we love, Latitude on Main, reaches for locally sourced ingredients on its eclectic, Nuevo Latino menu, while the newish Ping’s Café, part of a blossoming trend of izakaya openings (casual, Japanese small-plates eateries), attracts hipsters to the neighborhood.

 

 

Must-Have Dishes

Local chefs agree: Whatever the restaurant, it’s wise to not miss one of these choices in Vancouver.

 

Miku
Miku, in downtown, blends authentic Japanese culinary techniques with a contemporary twist.

Spot Prawns: In season for a short six to eight weeks beginning in May, the spot prawns along the B.C. coast are some of the best the ocean offers. Vancouver even started an annual festival to highlight them a few years ago, and they’re rapidly gaining prominent placement on menus.

Dungeness Crab, Crabcakes: The Dungeness crab season begins in mid-November and runs through June, but we hear the best and sweetest come in at the end of December. Another reason to visit before the vacation season.

Halibut: These are fished from mid-March to mid-November at the Canada Pacific Halibut Fishery, the first fishery in B.C. to receive the Marine Stewardship Council sustainability certification.

Sushi: Top-rated spots for sushi include the West Side’s ToJo’s and Shiro Japanese, the East Side’s Toshi and two-year-old Miku in downtown.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, Gastown, an area that just five or so years ago, we hear, was known mostly for its souvenir shops and rundown bars, has emerged as a viable dining destination. The eclectic menu at Pourhouse, for instance, has the type of comfort fare we can’t resist (think split pea soup and grilled local Berkshire pork chops), plus it sits at the height of the creative cocktail movement in Vancouver, with eye-catching libations like the Hogtown (bacon-infused Alberta rye, Fernet Branca, Angostura bitters). The small-bites trend is also alive and kicking in Gastown. Newer additions worth exploring include Judas Goat Taberna, a Spanish tapas-style bar with a decidedly British Columbia modern menu that touts items like lamb cheeks and scallop tartare, and The Diamond, where some of the more succulent small plates include betel leaf salad with prawns, peanuts and kaffir lime.

 

It’s a good thing it’s so easy to get to Richmond now—it takes 25 minutes by the newly opened Canada Line branch of the Vancouver SkyTrain to the heart of the city—because it’s the best place to head for dining outside the city, especially for Chinese and Asian fare. For a guided tour of the best restaurants in Richmond, check out the newly launched Foodie Tour to the Richmond area. Top Fare: We like the spicy Sichuan dishes at Golden Spring Szechuan and the high-end Hong Kong-style plates at Sea Harbour Seafood.