I’m just recently back from a first-time ever visit to Vancouver, and must say that the city and citizenry deserve high marks. A lot of tasty treats to be had, and thankfully downtown and nearby areas are very pedestrian-friendly as well so we could walk off all (well, some of) the yummy calories.
Particularly memorable dishes ran the gamut from Chinese, to Moroccan, to locally sourced fare, and we’ll get to those in a minute, but first let’s talk poutine. I’d only vaguely heard about this dish, and thought it was pretty well confined to its native Montreal, but evidently it’s spread across Canada faster than a puck off Cody Hodgson’s slap shot. (Yes, he’s a Canuck – I was in Vancouver, so all you Leafs and Flames fans just settle down.)
Supposedly, poutine originated in Quebec, the earliest claim dating back to 1957 at a restaurant named “Lutin Qui Rit,” which I believe translates to “Laughing Mischievous Sprite.” According to a website about all things poutine (www.montrealpoutine.com), a take-out customer at the restaurant requested French fries and cheese in a bag, to which the restaurateur responded, “Ça va faire une maudite poutine,” or “That’s going to make a damn mess.”
Indeed, poutine is a bit of a mess. Essentially, it’s typically a bed of French fries that’s sprinkled with cheese curds (which should squeak a bit when you bite them, if they’re fresh) then topped with gravy. The fries and gravy should make the cheese melt into a mass of gooeyness. As I’m not even a fan of the chili-cheese fries we have here in States, nor even especially of gravy, I was skeptical, but when in Canada, eh?
Deciding that this dish could really be a disaster in lesser hands, I chose to make the poutine plunge at Relish Gastropub in downtownVancouver. Though I suspect that greasy fries and lumpy gravy might plague many a poutine, this certainly wasn’t the case at Relish. Though the dish is always going to be challenging visually, their hand-cut fries, fresh curds, and silky gravy (a sublime velouté, really, that’s five days in the making) definitely had me smiling over poutine instead of pouting.
Other Inviting Vancouver Vittles …
One of the hottest spots in town is the stylish Bao Bei in Chinatown, which has racked up awards for both food and restaurant design since it opened last year. The menu tempts you with a couple dozen of tasty small plates meant to share, and it was amazing how different each and every one was in terms of taste, texture, and visual appeal. Of course, among the favorite several dishes we tried was the crispy pork belly, but I’m still thinking about the sliced Lotus root that was delicately stir-fried in Chinese chive, curry and black bean.
Next door to Bao Bei is the recently opened Keefer Bar, which takes the Chinatown concept to a whole level by using apothecary as the predominant theme throughout the restaurant’s design and drink menus. It’s hard not to love a spot that calls its drink “Prescriptions,” but here they mean it – most of the potent potables are prepared with ingredients such as astralagus root that have purported health properties. Would that the entire drink menu were online because it’s quite a read!
I would have liked to run through the entire menu at Edible Canada, a fairly new bistro on Granville Islandnear the wonderful Granville Market. Specializing in local fare is a winner, but I admit they also had me at duck fat fries! Yes, they were ridiculously tasty, as was the bacon Bloody Mary. Favorites on this menu included the duck confit hash with wild mushrooms, and the lightly battered and very fresh fish and chips.
A Moroccan place for breakfast? Decidedly yes when it means Medina at the edge of the Gastown section of Vancouver. This hip little bistro serves up Café Americano for its “regular” coffee, so you can imagine the attention to detail, but there’s nothing snobby about it. For breakfast we tucked into a Fricassé – fried eggs atop braised short ribs, arugula, roasted potatoes and caramelized onions – and Saumon Fume – two housemade slices of ciabatta topped with a delicate mixture of smoked salmon and caper cream cheese; one had sliced avocado and arugula for a savory emphasis, while the other had a peppadew and artichoke salad that tended more to the sweet; and both were topped with a just runny enough sunnyside up egg. We debated having one of the housemade waffles, but discretion won out – a rare moment of restraint.
After a rainy morning wandering around Vancouver’s West End neighborhood, we stumbled across the cozy Central Bistro, offering locally sourced fare that absolutely hit the spot for brunch (which they serve daily until 3 p.m. – now that’s civilized). My Central Benny (eggs benedict) featured the bright yellow eggs of free-range chickens, local organic ham, caramelized onions, freshly-made Hollandaise, and some of the best pan-fried potatoes I’ve ever had – chunks of potato with the perfect amount of crisp.