VANCOUVER - An Emerging Culinary Destination Wows My Palate

Vancouver , prepping, and preening for the 2010 Olympics, knows where she is in the scheme of global expansion. One of the most picturesque cities in the world, it is also cultivating its future as a culinary innovator.

Nathan Fong, the Culinary Ambassador of Vancouver, (often called “the pope of Vancouver ’s food scene”) wears many toques: food stylist, television host, radio commentator and restaurant public relations consultant. He tells me: Vancouver is now on the culinary map, especially for our seafood, Japanese, Chinese and Canadian West Coast cuisine; we serve seasonal dishes, so you get the freshest, no matter the month or the weather”.

The night of my arrival Nathan and I dine at Chambar, a Belgian Restaurant at 562 Beatty Street. Manager Paul. Grunberg takes great pride in presiding over our bar height round table, with a view of the kitchen, and we spend the next three hours feasting on: * Orange balsamic marinated sockeye salmon * Octopus Ceviche, vodka gazpacho * Citrus roasted Duck Breast, port foie gras terrine * Herb crusted Kurobuta pork tenderloin, foccacia blueberry pudding * Mussels Congolaise * and *Moscato strawberry sorbet, lychee, coconut foam.

Chambar Restaurant

Friday, morning

Nathan picks me up at the Coast Plaza Hotel; we cross the bridge to Granville Island, a once rundown boat yard, the government has turned into a major destination for both tourists and locals. We wander the famous Granville Market; where Nathan often shops; he introduces me to a few of his favorite purveyors; at the Oyama Sausage Company Stall I taste several of the 35-40 different pates they make each week; the shop where Nathan buys his flowers is ablaze with exotic orchid plants and glorious flower arrangements; rows and rows of “proud to be organic” ripe fruits and vegetables are lined up like soldiers, waiting to be sliced and diced.   We stop for a latte and a home made apple tart at the edge of the river; berthed yachts color the harbor.

Next stop, lunch at Crave, a new hangout for foodies and chefs.  

Crave on Mt. Pleasant & Main Street is in a neighborhood in transition, as is owner/chef   Wayne Martin, who left his corporate position as Executive Chef with The   Four Seasons Hotels to get back to his stove and cooking simple fresh food at reasonable prices. One of Vancouver ’s best $25 and under finds, Wayne’s innovative home cooking is definitely making its mark.   Wanting to please, Wayne insists we try few dishes: the braised lamb shank with mascarpone and roasted garlic mashed potatoes is so tender, it falls off the bone as I cut into it; the buttermilk fried chicken chopped cob salad with avocado, sun dried tomatoes, bacon, egg, chopped lettuce and scallions is sensational; crab cakes, served with chopped apple salad, are tangy and moist. Wayne tells me: “I’m happy cooking again, it’s what I grew up with; its evolution; this is my family”. Yes, I do have a craving for another taste of Crave.

Katherine Mason, the Publicity Director of the Pacific Palisades Hotel (a Kimpton property; I loved the red and the blue retro suites) books a “blueberry smoothie“ foot masque and reflexology  masque and massage in the hotel’s MBody Day Spa , a refreshing and exhilarating treat that leaves my feet tingling.   A glass of wine and popcorn drizzled with truffle oil at the hotel’s Zin Restaurant Bar is a delicious ending to an interesting fun day. 

Friday Night

the Honorable Chef Hidekazu Tojo (seated) and Nathan Fong

Nathan arranges for me to meet “ the Honorable Chef Tojo “at Tojo’s Restaurant, 1133 Broadway. Tojo, an International celebrity in the food world, is all about integrity; no farm fed fish for this culinary genius who invented the California Roll and serves 40,000 pounds of fish a year. He lives with balance, creating balance in each and every dish he prepares for his devoted fans. Hidekazu Tojo arrived in Vancouver from Osaka in 1971; opened the first sushi restaurant in Canada in 1988, worked with Nobu in 2001, and most recently bought and moved into his present space, a 155 seat restaurant with a 15 seat sushi bar. Tojo is behind the sushi bar when I arrive, where I am seated so we can chat. He tells me “the best place to get fresh seafood is in Japan, but the lifestyle in Vancouver gives me the balance and harmony with nature I crave”.

Tojo’s hands work with the precision of a well trained surgeon, and the freedom of a self taught artist. I watch him caress each ingredient as he deftly   slices, chops and molds a wide variety of fish, seafood, vegetables, rice   and his patented sauces into edible masterpieces; tonight he is using 17 different types of fish; his signature   handkerchief   folded and tied around his head. Tojo leads me on an exquisite culinary journey down a path I had yet to travel . . . one my taste buds will never forget.

A waiter places three glasses of sake: Nama, Gen-Syn and Nigoni in front of me; telling me to drink from right to left. I sip a little Nama with a plate of smoked sable, mushrooms, asparagus and mango. Tojo prepares a dish with abaco tuna and morel mushrooms, and watches slyly as I take my first bite; I am overcome with the integrity of its freshness.   A sampling of exquisite   offerings follow: an apple, cucumber and Dungeness crab miso with a mustard dressing; Osoyoos, a dish with baby scallops on a bed of baby spinach,  lightly smoked- in- house spring salmon, a lobster roll with cucumber, pineapple, avocado, yam tempura and wasabi.   A local couple who come often sit next to me, honored to be seated at the sushi bar for the first time; they   insist I try their favorite, the Magnum PI Torpedo, a combination of tuna, gooie duck tempura, shrimp, cucumber, lite soy sauce and Tojo’s patented hot sauce; it is outrageously decadent. Like a fine wine, each dish revealed layers of flavor, seasoning and authenticity

Tojo has been asked to create an “ official Olympic Roll” when Vancouver hosts the 2010 Olympics; I know it will win a gold metal.

Saturday’s Lunch

Raincity, 1193 Denman Street, another trendy neighborhood restaurant, was the first to feature regional ingredients and wines that are farmed or cultivated within a 100 mile radius of the city. We begin with a many layered textured aromatic asparagus soup, made with epazote (a cilantro like herb); a chenin blanc compliments this course. Chef de cuisine Andrea Carlson’s unique Braised Lamb Benedict, deserves an award for its originality, taste and texture.

La Gabroche Restaurant

Sue Alexander is the publicist for sister restaurants: Raincity, C (specializing in seafood). and Nu (recipient of Air Canada’s best new restaurant award in 2005) as well as La Gabroche Restaurant, a local institution at 1616 Alberni Street;   the first in town to use crystal glassware, serve local cheeses, serve and support local wines. I regret not meeting chef/owner/sommelier Manuel Ferreira; his extensive wine collection is impressive. Sue drives Lawrence and me around town; we stop at Organic Oceans fishing dock; owner Steve Johansen, who supplies C with their seafood, fills one plastic bag with a live crab, another with squirming prawns. I drop them off with chef Dang at C, promising to come back for dinner.   

Saturday’s Two Dinners

La Terrazza, 1088 Cambie Street , known for its sinful food and opulent décor, is my first stop. I sample an assortment of delectable appetizers from a heaping platter of hot antipasti, devour a medley of creamy well seasoned pastas, sip a glass of white wine, thank my hostess Cate Simpson, the restaurant’s publicist and grab a cab .

C Restaurant, 1600 Howe Street, a downtown waterfront restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating is sleek and elegant. Martin, the manager pours one my favorite white wines, Sonoma Coutrer Chardonnay Chef de Cuisine Quang Dang, a 26 year old self taught chef (200 cook books, no formal training) is waiting to surprise me with several dishes he has created with my crab and prawns. He has filled the crab shell with juicy chunks of crab meat, chopped prawns and mushrooms; a tall prawn is  perched on the edge of the shell gives me the eye.; Lawrence arrives in time to join me in savoring  my fresh –from- the- sea treat.

Vancouver is an amazing city with a food scene that should not be missed.

To read more from this trip, click on these links:

Vancouver - A Fabulous Place to Visit, a Great Place to Live

Alberta, Canada, Where The Canadian Rockies Speak Nature in Harmony with Mother Earth

Banff and Jasper National Parks . . . A Diversity of Thrills and Potential Spills

The Calgary Stampede . . . “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”




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