Living as a country mouse means I get to enjoy space and quiet and peace of mind most days. That’s not to say I don’t like a dose of urban hustle and bustle once in a while. Hubbie and I just got back from a whirlwind weekend in Vancouver, so I thought I would share some of our highlights. Then you can try out our discoveries, if you like what you see.
We met my stepdaughter for dinner on Friday night in downtown Vancouver. She is recently engaged so we knew the conversation would be all about wedding plans. That required a place casual enough for lots of silly chatting and sharing of Pinterest photos; a tapas restaurant in Gastown sounded perfect. The Sardine Can worked out really well, with delicious food and lovely wine.
As an added tip, I’ll mention that Gastown is a busy part of town for after-work drinks and socializing. Be prepared to wait – you will likely have to get a drink at one place while you wait for a seat at another place. Maple Tree Square is the centre of the action, with restaurants and pubs all around. We wandered into Chill Winston to have our first toast of the evening, since The Sardine Can only has a few seats and they were all full.
We visited, but you could go alone and enjoy – it’s a great people-watching spot, and the staff are friendly. Our bartender Charlie even made a custom drink for my stepdaughter.
The tapas were great and the Spanish wines helped transport us; we felt as if we’d snuck into a cozy spot on a side street in San Sebastián.
By the time we were done we had discussed wardrobe, menu, flowers, and the ceremony venue.
When your Papa is a chef who knows pastry and chocolate, dessert has its own significance. A trip to Sweet Obsession was in order.
This gem in Kitslano was made famous by a protegé of my hubbie, so it’s near and dear to our hearts. Tracey now owns Lemonade Bakery, where she specializes in gluten free products. There is no cafe to stay and eat, but it is worth a trip even if you aren’t gluten free.
On Saturday we had to make our cardinal stop. Ever since I was a kid, my favourite foodie spot in Vancouver has been Granville Island Public Market. It still warms my heart and my tummy on every visit, especially now that it’s the source of so many memories.Brave the busy parking and shuffle your way through the crowds – it’s worth all the fuss to enjoy a coffee, or a piece of pie, or fresh fruit, or fudge, or fish and chips (they have it all) and sit outside to watch the boats and birds in False Creek.
We stocked up on all our favourites, planning for a picnic dinner that night in our hotel room. (Having a full suite with a kitchen made it easier and much more comfortable than eating on a hotel bed.) More on that later.
Saturday lunch was for more family time, so again casual was the theme. Hubbie wanted to do some research, so we chose a BBQ joint – oddly enough, it was back at the same square in Gastown that we had visited the night before.
We met my brother and his girlfriend to trade gifts and then wandered down to Peckinpah BBQ, a southern style joint where most of the menu is set up very simply: pick your meat, then choose a few “sides” to go with it. There was beef, pork and chicken (we had a bit of each). Sides included corn bread, hush puppies (basically fried cornbread), coleslaw, fried pickles, and of course mac and cheese.
I can’t speak for the mac and cheese as we skipped that one but the other items were all solid efforts. I prefer vinaigrette for my coleslaw dressing; theirs was creamy and peppery. Fried pickles are good if you eat them fresh from the fryer; wait more than a few minutes and they get soggy. The jalapeño mayo they make for dipping the pickles was just the right touch of heat. We discovered it worked well with hush puppies and chicken wings too.
There is something especially comforting about food shared with family after a long absence. My brother and I hadn’t shared a meal in years and dipping hush puppies together as we laughed at old stories made the tastes even better. I know it won’t be nearly as long till we sit around a table again.
The picnic my hubbie and I set out that evening was just a nibble before heading out dancing, as we weren’t very hungry after all that BBQ. What an elegant way to picnic, though, in our vintage suite at the Arundel Mansion Hotel in New Westminster.
Sunday brunch was my own sentimental indulgence. Years ago my dad introduced me to a place out by the airport that was unique in its ambience. The Flying Beaver Bar & Grill sits on the water in Richmond, next door to the Harbour Air terminal for seaplanes. You can sit and watch them land and take off as you sip your beer and nibble on a homemade burger or Eggs Benny. I hadn’t been back in years, but it was just as good as I remember. (It’s just busier, like everything in Vancouver fifteen years later.)
Sometimes we head to the city and try out new places, looking for new adventure. This time was more about connections. It was heartwarming to reconnect and add to the memories. Not to mention we filled the fridge with delicacies.
Martin and I spent a couple of days in Vancouver last week, catching up on our foodie fix and thoroughly enjoying a concert – we got to see Sting and Paul Simon on stage together. (Remember, I did say I like to make the most of life in general!) I thought I would share some of our highlights.
We stopped at IKEA on the way into town – a great stop for any foodie who wants to be funky without breaking the bank. Serving dishes and linens for entertaining, nifty Swedish condiments like lingonberry jam to jazz up Sunday dinner, and candles of all shapes and sizes are there for the taking. Oh, and if you have kids, they have hot dogs for less than $1 and a play room. So now you have no excuse 🙂
Staying downtown was important if we were to cover as much ground as possible in a short visit. We found a boutique hotel that was central, but without parking with in Vancouver is a real hassle so I would recommend one of the larger places that offers on-site parking if you drive to Vancouver.
I used Trip Advisor to give us some suggestions as to funky places. Checking the reviews and filtering the complaints with a grain of salt is a good way to give us a short list, I find. Then we discuss what we feel like and we head out! The first night we chose a place called Twisted Fork Bistro, and although the usually great Trip Advisor Guide app gave us totally wrong directions we managed to find it before the rain got too heavy (it’s on Granville Street, NOT on Robson as the app says, if you’re looking).
My feet hurt by the time we arrived, but it turned out to be worth the effort. If you like mussels, you have to visit this cozy little long bar. If you want small servings or sharing plates, it’s a fantastic choice. If you like wine, they offer BC wines on their list, and they have a fun choice called “just a glass” for a great price. The serving staff will tell you about what is featured that night, and even if you go for a name choice the prices are competitive and the choices excellent. We also shared a “roo loin” – yes, I will eat adventurous food. It was delicious with the balsamic glaze, sauteed green onions and watermelon cubes. The watermelon was also inspired with the Bacon Brussel Sprouts we ordered! Mussels are served with frites piled over top, in a cream sauce. It was like a continental French poutine – decadent for sure.
The good thing about appetizer portions is that it tends to leave you more room for dessert. The chef here is a pastry chef so don’t miss out if you can help out. We had the chocolate terrine, but all the choices sounded delectable.
The next morning we headed for Granville Island Market, the place we used to meet for breakfast when we were first dating. Saturday morning donuts, fresh fruit and coffee is a family tradition for us. Lee’s Donuts and JJ Bean Coffee didn’t disappoint. Donuts just glazed and still warm, and some of the finest roasted beans I have ever tasted made me feel like I could take on the world!
Shopping for dinner is the other fun activity at the market, and there are many offerings for every taste. We like Seigel’s Bagels (Martin is from Montreal; need I say more?), and Benton Brothers Fine Cheese (try the Abondance from France – it’s divine! They will help with wine pairings too, if you like). Choose your veggies ruthlessly, and ask the experts to help you with seafood and meat – they love the compliment and you won’t regret it. If you just want pâté or cured meats, check out Oyama Sausage Co. – they have it all. And if you want fresh pasta, Duso’s is my go-to place – their butternut squash ravioli is divine 🙂
An aside here: You have to train if you’re going to embark on this kind of foodie day. A lot of walking helps, but you want to psyche yourselves for the notion of basically eating non-stop all day. Tasting is the key – don’t look to have large portions, as variety is the objective here. You will be full at the end of the day, for sure, but a good workout for the next few days afterwards will get you back in balance. It’s worth it, trust me.
From the market we went to see a friend who has a wonderful business on South Cambie. Tracy Kadanoff has been a pastry chef for years and she developed an allergy to gluten. So what did she do? She made lemonade – she opened a bakery where she could still do her beautiful work, Lemonade Gluten Free Bakery.
Not only does she do breads and cookies, she does fine cakes and pastries, all from gluten free recipes. You certainly won’t feel like you’re missing anything here! We got goodies for friends who eat gluten free, and we treated ourselves to a salted caramel chocolate tart that we had later that evening. Then across the street I even managed to find treats to take home for “the troops” (our dogs) at Three Dog Bakery.
Time for lunch! I wanted a stroll at English Bay, especially since it wasn’t raining on a February day. So we decided to eat the food of the ‘hood, and go Mediterranean. I know it sounds silly, but we really did go to the Falafel King, on Denman Street. I have to tell you, my first ever restaurant job was in a Lebanese place kind of like this in Calgary, and this place was just as authentic and equally as tasty. If you don’t believe me, check out the link and see the reviews!
We sat on a park bench at English Bay and nibbled our lunch – my falafel was divine, and Martin’s shawarma was delicious. I thought of my Dad, whose ashes were strewn over the waves there years ago, and wouldn’t you know, the sun came out and warmed us up.
We enjoyed the heat, and the view, and we relaxed for a while. Then we thought. perhaps we should see about a little something sweet 🙂 So off we went down Denman Street. We window shopped and wandered, and eventually found ourselves at an old haunt, True Confections. Martin used to run the kitchen here, so he knew just the thing. A pie of Mud Cake was just what we needed. It’s dense, with an equally dense chocolate fudge icing. We shared a piece as we walked back to the car. If you’re going, I would also recommend the Devil’s Food Cake with marshmallow icing, or the Lemon Heaven Cake with its lemon mousse and sponge cake layers covered in white chocolate glaze.
Time to rest up, as the day was not over yet! We headed back to the hotel to change shoes (lots of walking – it helps work off the calories!). After a couple of hours, we headed out for dinner. We wanted to go to Chambar, but they were full. I should have known, as this is a very hip and popular spot. But this was an evening more for something spontaneous, so we wandered down the road. Gastown is full of little eateries, so we weren’t worried.
We found the Revel Room, not full and yet bustling with an energy that we liked. The retro light fixtures and old concert posters gave a cozy feel to the place, and we liked the menu from the first glance. Success! I thoroughly enjoyed the New Orleans Fix, a house special made with bourbon, citrus juices and homemade pineapple syrup. Martin had one of their craft beers and we shared their Chili Shrimp and their Polenta Strips. They were the perfect snacks before our concert.
Being “of an age” we have amassed a number of memories and many of them are wrapped in music. A chance to see two legends together, intertwining their classics by sharing voices and bands was a truly magical evening. I was a huge Sting fan as a young adult, and Martin’s first concert was the Police. My parents played Simon & Garfunkel all through my childhood and Martin named his dogs after Paul (a Doberman) Simon (a German Shorthaired Pointer). We didn’t get up and dance, but I swear I worked off a few hundred calories in my seat!
We finished the evening off by sharing the tart from Lemonade Bakery back in the hotel room with a cup of tea… the perfect end to the perfect day.
Our trip ended on a high note, with a family breakfast at a funky diner called The Red Wagon. Martin’s daughter Chloae joined us for good old-fashioned hearty morning fare, along with some of the best diner java I’ve had since eating in Harlem. It might sound weird, but pulled pork pancakes with Jack Daniels-spiked syrup are really good, as is Brisket & Eggs. I went a bit more traditional with Eggs Benny, but they did have pulled pork instead of ham. It was a sublime meal. We all took pictures of each other’s food, and hummed as we ate 🙂
I know I have rambled, but I wanted to share every delectable moment. I hope you have the stamina to enjoy at least a few of these moments on your next visit to Vancouver; if not, perhaps this article will inspire you to start training.
If you have any foodie trips or moments you’d like to share, please do. I’m always looking for new horizons!
I’ve been on the road this week, working away from home. It’s fun to have a change of scenery and to try out restaurants but I have to admit there is something lacking when you eat out alone. Sharing food with other people around a table is one of the most convivial activities I can think of, but eating by yourself is an experience of another sort.
You can meet other diners when you are eating alone, but only in the right environment. Most restaurants in our part of the world still have set tables designed for pre-formed groups. If you are a “table of 1” then you get put at a table with 2 seats but they won’t just drop someone off to join you.
You can make friends with the server but they only have so much time to chat, and if it’s when your food arrives at the table then you don’t want to be insulting the chef and letting the food get cold, do you?
You can bring a book or some other reading material but that can be awkward. Most books won’t stay open on their own so now you have only one hand left with which to eat your meal. If you have a magazine then they can often take up too much space on the table. Where do you put that vase of flowers, on the floor? Not likely. And don’t even think about bringing a newspaper – that’s just silly. Of course now many people have a portable e-reader or a deskpad… do you really want dinner-smudged fingerprints on your screen?
You can people-watch, and this can be very interesting. So interesting in fact, that you find yourself straining to hear all the details of a conversation you start to overhear, or staring at a group that might be in the midst of an engaging discussion or proposal. Again, an awkward situation.
So, what to do? Stare at the food, or the wallpaper? Are you supposed to only look for pubs that have large TV screens available for staring into? Do you pick hotels with room service and surf the channels of hotel cable or read the city guide to see what you’ll be missing while you attend your conference or give your speech? This is really starting to sound pathetic… a drastic solution is required.
I’ve got it! How about this, since we are in a digital age, with wifi and multimedia everywhere? You could make full use of that table of 2 by inviting one of your friends as a virtual companion. Go ahead, make that video call and set them up across from you. Maybe they will even plan to eat at the same time as you and then you can compare notes about your respective meals. This could work, I can see it happening.
I wonder though, would the restaurant want to charge you for that extra chair you’re now using? Would people start to prefer the option of being able to “pause” their dining companion? Maybe it’s better that we pine for someone’s company once in a while, just so we remember the beauty of the real thing.
If you’re in the Vancouver or Victoria area, here are the places I visited and can heartily recommend:
Mongo Bongo in New Westminster – a choose-your-own ingredients set up for Mongolian grill. Fun and tasty. They have a big screen 🙂
Pied a Terre in Vancouver (near Queen Elizabeth Park on Cambie) – a delightful little French bistro with a great value table d’hote menu
Starbucks – easy to count on friendly staff if you need a smile and some small talk. And free wifi if you want to video call anyone.
Campagnolo Roma – one of 3 restaurants owned by a group, all of them great. This one features Roman dishes, fresh and flavourful. Easy to people-watch here!
P.S. I stopped in Vancouver on my way home and had dinner with my Mom. As I was watching out the window, waiting for her to arrive at the restaurant, another solo diner came up to me and said, “If our dates don’t arrive, I’ll come and eat with you!” There’s an interesting concept, don’t you think?