An International Escape: Where to Eat, Drink, and Stay in Vancouver

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    by Caroline Hatchett and Kathleen Culliton with Antoinette Bruno
    Antoinette Bruno
    June 2011
    There's something about the water in Vancouver. It touches every aspect of life. Besides keeping the city from falling victim to urban sprawl, the harbor beckons immigrants from across the globe. Its waves produce an abundance of seafood—oysters, scallops, fish, and crab—and along with a moderate climate, the bay and fjords call city dwellers from their high-rises to the outdoors. Like other Northwest ports of call, Vancouver is an outdoorsy city where people live for life, not work. And an emerging culinary culture has given Vancouverites something more to live for: great food.

    The chef community here has a deep respect for Pacific Northwest product—there's not a menu we tasted from that didn’t boast Pacific-caught fish, local vegetables, or meat from down the street—but Vancouver chefs have a knack for blending local product with imported spices and techniques to form an East-meets-West cuisine that’s at once global and distinctively Vancouver. Restaurants with a more classically Western approach celebrate product and diversity with equal measure—we tasted with French, Austrian, German, British, and (honorary) Italian chefs.

    Add to that our Indian, Chinese, Thai, and Malaysian tastings, and you may as well cue up "It’s a Small World" before service. Small or not, Vancouver is a city with exciting flavors and travel-worthy cuisine.

    EAT

    Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie

    163 Keefer Street
    Vancouver, BC
    (604) 688-0876
    www.bao-bei.ca
    Hours: Mon-Sat 5:30pm-12am

    The vintage-Asian interior and modern Chinese cuisine at Chef Joël Watanabe’s Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie are funky and eclectic. Dishes are a riot of textures (crunchy bread and melting pork butt), flavors (rich duck and umami-packed shitakes), and colors (hot pink pickled onions juxtaposed with soft green cucumbers and lipstick-red chilies). The food deftly navigates Eastern and Western waters; Wanatabe’s menu is at once familiar and something new—for diners on either side of the Pacific. And whether diners go for tartare or wontons, they’ll feel better knowing that all of Bao Bei’s proteins are well-treated and its seafood sustainable—and served at a price point nearly every Vancouverite can afford.

    Recommended:
  • Duck and Shitake Mushroom Wontons in Duck Consommé with Chinese Yellow Chives
  • Shao Bing: House-made Crunchy Sesame Flatbread with Braised Pork Butt, Asian Pear, Pickled Onion, and Mustard Greens

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    C Restaurant

    1600 Howe Street
    Vancouver, BC
    (604) 681-1164
    www.crestaurant.com
    Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-10pm; Sat-Sun 5:30pm-10pm

    Chef Lee Humphries grew up in England, the son of vegetable farmers, but the transplanted Vancouverite has turned his attention from the soil to the sea for C Restaurant. As the founding restaurant of Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise Program, C takes its seafood seriously—where it comes from and its sustainability street cred. Since taking over the kitchen, Humphries has introduced a greater variety of land-dwelling proteins to the menu, pairing the restaurant’s ocean-sourced stars with the likes of shaved Iberico ham, unctuous pork belly, and lamb sirloin.

    Recommended:
  • Spot Prawn Ceviche, Shaved Iberico Ham, Organic Radishes, and Cultivated Herbs
  • Pickled Northfarm Beetroot Salad, Ricotta Salata, Olive Oil Sorbet, and Cultivated Herbs

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    Cork & Fin

    221 Carrall Street
    Vancouver, BC
    www.corkandfin.ca
    Hours: Mon-Wed 5pm-12am, Thurs-Sun 4pm-12am

    Around the corner from Vancouver’s Blood Alley (whose history is more awash in mystery and misinformation than the red stuff), Cork & Fin Chef Elliott Hashimoto serves simple, seasonal, and fish-focused fare—as the name implies. Go for fresh-off-the-boat seafood towers and oysters on the half shell—and a good time, which won't be a problem if you order from the “Cork” portion of the menu. The restaurant has a strong by the glass program, serves fun wine flights, and offers wine pairings with a nightly prix fixe menu.

    Recommended:
  • In-house Smoked Sablefish: Poached in Milk with Napa Cabbage in Wholegrain Mustard
  • Spring on a Plate: Sockeye Salmon, Fresh English Peas, Snow Peas, Cipollini Onions, Pickled Shiitake Mushrooms, Pea Shoot Salad, Grape Tomatoes, and Spring Onion Sauce

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    Five Sails at Pan Pacific Hotel

    300-999 Canada Place
    Vancouver, BC
    (604) 844-2855
    www.fivesails.ca
    Hours: Daily 5:30pm-10pm

    Five Sails isn’t your typical hotel restaurant. After working as the Pan Pacific’s hotel chef for years (and falling madly in love with the hotel's director of catering), Chef Ernst Dorfler got the girl and bought the Five Sails space, where he now enjoys complete creative freedom with his talented wife and partner, Gerry Sayers. That freedom translates into a beautiful, fine-dining expression of Pacific Northwest cuisine, with Dorfler’s native Austrian accent woven into the menu. Diners can expect to carve into game, like quail and local venison, eat Pacific seafood, and happily devour delicate, flavor-forward pastas. And no meal at Five Sailswould be complete without the sweeping views of the bay and surrounding mountains.

    Recommended:
  • Roasted Free Range Breast of Quail infused with Shitake Mushrooms and Herbs, Black Truffle Whipped Potato, and Natural Jus
  • Schlutzkrapfen: Austrian-style Mountain Ravioli with Spinach, Herbs, Ricotta Cheese, and Hazelnut Brown Butter

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    La Quercia

    3689 West 4th Avenue
    Vancouver, BC
    (604) 676-1007
    www.laquercia.ca
    Hours: Tues-Sun: 5pm-10pm

    Three-year-old chef-owned La Quercia is steeped in tradition. Co-chefs Lucais Syme and Adam Pegg embrace historical culinary details in preparing their elegant Northern Italian cuisine. Take their Sole in Saor, a dish originally designed for long voyages at sea. The chefs sear fish and then lay it to rest for a week under a bed of onions cooked in wine and vinegar; the flavor of the dish intensifies and grows funkier (and tastier) by the day. The cuisine approach and professional waitstaff at La Quercia lean toward fine dining, but house-made pastas and sumptuous meats are served in a small, low-key space. Diners can choose from menu items scribbled on black boards, or for a more spontaneous meal, request to eat alla famiglia for which Syme and Pegg whip up à la minute three-course selections from regional products hanging around the kitchen.

    Recommended:
  • Sole in Saor: Veneto-style Sole and Onions with Salsa Rosa and Salsa Verde
  • Stinging Nettle Agnolotti with Tomato, Leek, and Pernod Purée
  • Piatto di Coniglio (Rabbit Plate): Prosciutto-wrapped Rabbit Loin topped with Hazelnuts; Pan-seared Rabbit Liver with Sage Flour Crust; Braised Rabbit Hind Leg with Glazed Shallots, and White Asparagus

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    Maenam

    1938 West 4th Avenue
    Vancouver, BC
    (604) 730-5579
    www.maenam.ca
    Hours: Sun-Mon: 5pm-11pm; Tues-Sat 12pm-2:30pm, 5pm-11pm

    Chef Angus An’s Maenam is a house of curries—and a must-stop if you're traveling to Vancouver. While most Thai restaurants base their sauces on industrial curry pastes (it’s often cheaper and certainly less labor intensive), this David Thompson protégé imports chilies and lemongrass (and other secret ingredients) from Thailand to blend into his house-made curry pastes, along with oil from freshly cracked coconuts. The resulting curries are intense but balanced—an exercise in maximizing and building layer upon layer of flavor. And even though the curries have an international provenance, An serves all local proteins in his modern, black-leather-clad temple to Thai cuisine.

    Recommended:
  • Beef Short Ribs braised in Coconut Cream, stir-fried with Pad Prik King Curry Paste, and topped with Fresh Green Peppercorns
  • Tender Fraser Valley Duck Curry, Cherry Tomatoes, Lychees, Kaffir Lime Leaves, Thai Basil, and Red Curry

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    Refuel Restaurant and Bar

    1944 West 4th Avenue
    Vancouver, BC
    (604) 288-7905
    www.refuelrestaurant.com
    Hours: Mon-Fri:11:30am-2:30pm, 5pm-10pm; Sat-Sun: 11:30am-3pm, 3pm-10pm

    Pork is the reigning protein at Chef Robert Belcham’s Refuel. And each Thursday he and his staff refuel their pantry supply by butchering a local heritage pig and transforming it into four types of sausage, charcuterie (think ham, sopressata, and saucisson sec), and any number of delicious cuts. The modern-casual space welcomes non-pork lovers, too, who can dine on any number Italian-inspired plates—seasonal ravioli, risotto, salads, gnudi, and polenta (the last comes topped with delicate morels and fava beans or hefty hunks of kielbasa; the choice is yours). Regardless of a dish’s focus, Refuel’s MO is local and sustainable, and its cuisine embraces the flavors of the Pacific Northwest (with an added dash of porcine deliciousness).

    Recommended:
  • Scrapple: Crispy Pork Cheek Terrine, Almonds, Broccoli, Ancho Chile Sauce, and Fried Farm Egg
  • House-made Kielbasa, Polenta, and Ramps

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    Thomas Haas Patisserie

    2539 West Broadway Avenue
    Vancouver, BC
    (604) 736-1848
    www.thomashaas.com
    Hours: Tues-Sat 8am-5:30pm

    As a fourth generation pastry chef, Thomas Haas knows something about tradition. He also knows when to throw out the rule book and improve upon a classic. Although his pastry case is stocked with staples like macaroons, croissants, financiers, chocolates, and cakes, Haas brings fresh perspective to each of his desserts. His Coffee Macaroon comes with a surprise coffee bean hidden in its center, delivering a bitter, crunchy hit of flavor. And his Almond Croissant is twice-baked (he starts with a perfect croissant, splits it in half, fills and brushes it with almond cream, rolls it in almonds, and bakes it again), and it’s one of the most superb confections you can imagine—enjoy one (or two) with a cup of coffee at one of two Vancouver retail locations.

    Recommended:
  • Raspberry Financier
  • Almond Croissant
  • Milk Chocolate Passionfruit Cake with Crispy Hazelnut Wafers, and Orange Almond Cake
  • Coffee Macaroon

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    Tropika

    2975 Cambie Street
    Vancouver, BC
    (604) 879-6002
    www.tropika-canada.com
    Hours: Daily 11am-10pm

    Amid the hectic bustle and modernist aesthetic of Tropika, Vancouver's favorite spot for classic Malaysian-Thai food, waiters whisk by with heaping plates of crab legs and rich soups trailing steam. K.L. Crab (a.k.a chili crab) is the celebrity dish on the menu, with good reason—crushed, dried shrimp sauce coats the enormous Dungeness crab, which is fried at an ultra-high temperature. The brittle shrimp coating gives way with a crunch to succulently tender crab meat. Tropika's chili crab is reason enough to travel to Vancouver.

    Recommended:
  • K.L. Crab: Malaysian-style Chili Crab with Crushed and Dried Shrimp Sauce
  • Tung Yam Kung: Thai Hot and Sour Soup with Lobster, Shrimp, Long Beans, and Thai Chili Jam

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    Vij’s

    1480 West 11th Avenue
    Vancouver, BC
    (604) 736-6664
    www.vijs.ca
    Hours: Daily 5:30-10pm

    A longtime fixture of the Vancouver dining scene, the jovial and passionate Vikram Vij opened his namesake restaurant in 1994, showcasing Indian cuisine made with exacting French technique. An upscale-modern Indian chef (one of a generation), he’s reorienting and refining Indian cuisine and how it’s appreciated on the North American continent. To show his loyalty to his adopted Vancouver, Vij gives local rainbow trout a bold Eastern kick with mustard seeds and curry leaves. Spicy Lamb “Popsicles” are an expression of Vij’s best Gallic and Indian charms, and savory Poached Jackfruit is a clear reminder that Eastern flavors dominate the menu’s style and seduce Western diners who crave something more (much more) than tikka masala.

    Recommended:
  • Pulled Pork Belly sautéed in Tamarind served on Paneer
  • Savory Jackfruit poached in Black Cardamom and Cumin Curry with Micro Greens and Chewy Naan

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    Yew Restaurant and Bar at Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver

    791 West Georgia Street
    Vancouver, BC
    (604) 692-4939
    www.fourseasons.com/vancouver/dining/yew_restaurant
    Hours: Daily 7am-2:30pm, 5pm-10pm

    Settling on a on a single dessert at Yew Restaurant and Bar may lead to a sweet conundrum. Not to worry, Pastry Chef Bruno Feldeisen has crafted a playful dessert tapas menu of sparkling, bursting liquid ravioli and cheesecake lollipops (among other sweet bites)—all available for a sinless $3 each or three for $8 … who’s counting, right? But big flavor comes in larger packages, too. Feldeisen’s velvety Duck Egg Custard elevates played-out crème brûlée to new crave-worthy heights, and his Chocolate Crunchy Bar is an unassuming brown brick (and the most luscious, creamy candy bar you’ve ever eaten). We didn’t have a chance to taste Chef Oliver Becker’s savory creations at Yew, but they lean Pacific Northwest, with a fine selection of oysters and seafood and local produce and proteins.

    Recommended:
  • White Chocolate Lollipop with Raspberry Cheesecake Filling
  • Duck Egg Custard, Ginger Sugar, and Sesame Tuile
  • Chocolate Crunchy Bar, Candied Hazelnuts, and Caramel Sauce

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    DRINK

    L’Abattoir

    217 Carrall Street
    Vancouver, BC
    (604) 568-1701
    www.labattoir.ca
    Hours: Daily 5:30pm-11:45pm

    L’Abatoir is an homage to Vancouver’s butchery district of yore. And though blood isn’t pouring out of this made-over historical building (decorated with Jonathan Adler-esque brown and white tiles, stainless steel accents, and brick walls), Mixologist Shaun Layton is pouring, mixing, and shaking some of the best cocktails in town. His drinks range from a quirky Spot of Tea with British flavors of Pimm’s, gin, and marmalade to trendy barrel-aged libations and crowd-pleasing summer cocktails. Our favorite drink, the Meat Hook, is twist on a classic Red Cook with a lingering smoky finish and men’s club vibe. It’s the perfect way to celebrate (or forget) L’Abbatoir’s past.

    Recommended:
  • Meat Hook: Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, Ardbeg 10-year Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Punt e Mes, and Maraschino Cherry
  • A Spot of Tea: Beefeater 242 Gin, Pimms #1, English Breakfast Tea, Orange Marmalade, Bitterman's Boston Bittahs, Fresh Lemon, and Cucumber Slices

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    STAY

    Pan Pacific Hotel

    300-999 Canada Place
    Vancouver, BC
    (604) 662-8111
    www.panpacific.com/Vancouver/Overview.html
    Rooms start at $175

    You can’t escape the beauty of Vancouver at the Pan Pacific hotel. While it’s conveniently located next to the Vancouver Convention Center and the city’s cruise ship dock, its most fortunate positioning is on the bay, offering incredible views of the water, islands, and mountains from every corner of the hotel. And if a view of the water isn’t enough, guests can plunge into the eighth-floor salt water pool and Jacuzzi (while still drinking in the landscape). Chef Ernst Dorfler’s Five Sails not only provides dinner guests with a panorama, but also offers a window into the product-driven cuisine of the Pacific Northwest. And if guests want to feel as beautiful as their surroundings, they can check into the Spa Utopia & Salon (British Columbia’s largest spa space), where packages and à la carte massages, facials, manicures, and more will have you feeling picturesque in no time.


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