Exploring Vancouver

Dining
By Paul Horne for PASSPORT Magazine

Every city has their superstar chef, and in Vancouver that's Bob Feenie, owner of the French-inspired Lumière (voted best restaurant in British Columbia by the Vancouver Sun) and it's cheaper nextdoor brother, Feenie's. Feenie is a bestselling cookbook author, has his own cooking show on the Food Network Canada, and is one of the few people to have beaten out Masaharu Morimoto on the smash hit Iron Chef.

Another star chef is Vikram Vij, owner of the Indian fusion powerhouse Vij's, which the New York Times described as "Easily among the finest Indian restaurants in the world." Like Lumière, Vij's has a less expensive brother next door, the Rangoli Market and Café. There you can order off the changing six-item lunch menu or buy frozen and refrigerated ready-to-eat Indian food, as well as freshly roasted and ground Indian spices.

I also visited the acclaimed Tojo's restaurant on rumors that it was the best sushi outside of Tokyo, and was thrilled to sit down in front of Hidekazu Tojo himself for an omakase (chef's choice) meal. Tojo is an artist and consummate host, and you can tell he'd rather be in the kitchen than traveling the world building a brand like other star chefs. When he'd occasionally bark out "No soy sauce please" on items he deigned too good to be "bruised" by condiments, my dinner date and I had to bite our lips to not laugh. I'll give away one of his secrets: Tojo toasts his seaweed before rolling his sushi, so it's always crispy and light, never soggy.Another unexpected culinary delight was Chambar, a Belgian brasserie where I stopped at the rich wooden bar to sample some of their super fresh cocktails. The bartender informed me that liqueurs like Curacao, crème de menthe, and kahlua are out—the hottest trend sees fresh squeezed pomegranates, watermelon, or key limes flavored with items like saffron, vanilla bean, red peppercorns, or seasonal berries. Vodka never had it so good. After a couple mind-blowing drinks I made it into the warmly lit dining room to sample the cuisine of Belgian chef/owner Nico Schuermans. Out came innovative dishes like venison carpaccio with wild forest mushrooms; octopus ceviche with vodka gazpacho and crisp fried capers; slow roasted pork tenderloin with charred foccacia bread pudding and a blueberry reduction. If you're a fan of wine-steamed mussels and double fried Belgian fries, the moules frites at Chambar are heaven. As he described each course, handsome maître d' Paul's culinary exuberance was contagious. Chambar is warm and unpretentious fine dining and I can't wait to return.

The gastronomy war cry in Vancouver is local, local, local. Vancouverites are justifiably proud of their BC wines and microbrews, artisanal cheeses, and fresh local produce and seafood. Locals gossip about restaurant openings and chefs with the same zeal that they complain about the weather.

The other pride of the Vancouver culinary scene is the lively Granville Island Public Market, which is both tourist attraction and world-class farmer's market. Stalls overflow with impeccably stacked fish, vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese, and flowers, and there is a huge food court. Granville Island is also home to a theatre, brewing company, model train museum, and more than 200 shops selling everything from custom-made jewelry to yachts.

Visiting foodies will be thrilled to discover Edible BC, a culinary company offering gourmet kayaking weekends from the Gulf Islands, whiskey dinners at trendy Vancouver eateries, and chef-led tours of food neighborhoods like Commercial Drive and Chinatown. I was lucky enough to attend one of their sake nights, held with about 20 people at a large table right in the middle of the Granville Market after it had closed for the night. They prepared and served a delicious six-course meal in front of us, and premium sake maker Masa Hiroshi joined us to talk about sake and pair each course with different sakes from his Osake studio next door. The dinners are a great way for visitors to meet locals and have a fantastic meal at the same time. Edible BC has also opened a retail space inside the Granville Market where gourmands can find more than 450 made-in-BC products like Espresso Bean Chocolate Sauce, Gorgonzola Rosemary Scones, and Sambuca Soaked Cherries.

After my whirlwind week in Vancouver I tried to think of the drawbacks to this "most livable city." It does rain more here than in Seattle (170 days per year)…so is that the city's Achilles' heel? Well, much of the rain falls in the winter, and Vancouverites know that rain in the city means snow in the mountains, and that's a good thing.

There are also way too many Starbucks here…but that could be said of just about anywhere now. Some Canadians do pronounce out and about "oot" and "aboot," but that's more charming than irritating.

So that leaves me with clean air, spectacular beauty, world-class skiing and gastronomy, endless outdoor activities, spas, shopping, and a welcome mat for my dog, not to mention a thriving gay scene with a healthy dose of legalized gay marriage. Is Vancouver really that livable?

I've already started packing.


Published: 2 Nov 2008 | Last Updated: 1 Apr 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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