Just came back from a trip to Vancouver (pleasure) and
San Diego (business, sort of). I'm afraid I have
nothing exciting to report about San Diego (went to
several pleasant but unexceptional restaurants, and I
can say it on good authority that few things more
depressing than eating at a Marriott hotel).
But I loved Vancouver: the rugged beauty of the
scenery; the unvarying friendliness of the people; and
of utmost importance, terrific food.
Vancouver reminds me a bit of Seattle. With a little
effort, it's hard not to eat well in Vancouver, but
the highs generally aren't as high as in, say, NYC or
I also want to thank Gary Cheong, who gave me several
tips that led to the best meals I had. For me, the
highlight was definitely Tojo, the "Nobu" of
Vancouver. Luckily, Tojo's "Nobuness" did not extend
to the prices or the attitude. You *CAN* blow a
bundle if you put yourself in Tojo's hands, but our
group of three was content to focus on their house
specialties. My single favorite dish from Vancouver
was "Tojo's Tuna," spectacular raw tuna in a wonderful
wasabi-soy sauce. The sauce drove me crazy. I had to
order rice to dunk every last bit of the sauce upon.
And then I ordered another dish. Many of Tojo's
experiments were more effective to me than Matsuhisa's.
Sun Sui Wah is a huge Hong Kong-style Chinese
restaurant. My compadres wouldn't go for any of the
scary huge fish entrees (they had geoduck clams the
size of Mark McGuire's arms) but I had perhaps the
best Peking Duck ever. I'd love to go back there.
Diva is a relaxing place for a weekend brunch, and the
black cod hash is addictive.
C was a little too fussy for me, but the seafood Asian
fusion restaurant is in a lovely setting and we didn't
try enough dishes to render a final verdict.
Bacchus is a terrific Italian restaurant located in a
small, luxury hotel with carefully prepared food in a
relaxed and quiet setting.
Even Cabrero's, which looks like a tourist trap and
was noisy as the dickens, turned out a wonderful
salmon roasted on a wooden plank.
And then there are always Aunt Vickie's potato chips,
one of my favorite brands anywhere (but I don't
suggest any but the plain variety -- both the salt and
vinegar and BBQ varieties taste artificial and are
In general, street food and pastries found in coffee
houses was execrable.
Prior to my trip to Vancouver, B.C. this last weekend,
I consulted a book entitled "Northwest Best Places" and
Vancouver Magazine's 10th Annual Restaurant Awards,
which is available on the net at
www.vanmag.com/9904/awards_poll.html. Since I took a
late flight from Los Angeles and didn't arrive in
Vancouver until after 10:00 p.m., my first dilemma was
where to get a decent meal at that hour of night.
Happily, the desk clerk at my hotel knew a lot about
the Vancouver food scene, and directed me to Tsui Hang
Village on Granville Street, which is open until 3:30
a.m. The most frequently recommended Chinese
restaurants in Vancouver are Sun Sui Wah and Grand King
Seafood, so I was expecting a passable meal at best.
But the pan fried black cod and sauteed oysters in
garlic and hot pepper were both delicious, and I
couldn't stop eating the salted fish and chicken fried
rice. So, my stay in Vancouver started off with a nice
surprise. We ate lunch the next day at a Cambodian/
Vietnamese restaurant on Broadway called Phnom Penh.
Wonderful, amazing, spectacular food! The green papaya
salad with beef jerky was a marvelous version of this
classic dish. Spicy garlic squid (Grandmother's
recipe) served with a fresh lemon and pepper sauce was
one of the best dishes I've ever had. Perfectly fried
squid in a light, spicy batter, the squid unbelievably
tender and moist, with a great dipping sauce. Aahhhh.
Also in the "wonderful" category were Vietnamese
steamed rice paste--little flat, round cups of steamed
rice paste topped with shrimp, shredded pork and pork
skin, and coconut sauce--and raw beef fillet with
anchovies. The only thing that was only "good," not
"great," was the cha gio, of which I've had better
elsewhere. My only chagrin was that I didn't have room
for the Vietnamese crepe (banh xeo) or the trieu chau
fried oyster cake or many of the other wonderful
looking dishes that kept coming out of the kitchen to
other tables. Next time. For dinner, I wasn't able to
get reservations at the Vancouver critics'
first place restaurant of the year, Lumiere, so settled
on the second place winner, a fancy seafood restaurant
named C. Dave Feldman's comment was that C "was a
little to fussy for me" but "we didn't try enough
dishes to render a final verdict." Well, Dave, I found
the food at C to be truly awful. The chef is trying so
hard to be "inventive" that he has completely lost his
senses. The "Pacific Ocean Caviar Tasting" was
comprised mostly of flavored tobiko (the
ginger-flavored tobiko was almost inedible),
second-rate salmon roe, and a horrible piece of sea
urchin roe, which was touted to be "local." At least
now I know why there's no significant market for
Canadian sea urchin roe. Salmon gravlax had been
infused with a blueberry emulsion resulting in another
horrible combination of flavors. I had a soft shell
crab that was overcooked in a coarse highly spiced
crust, with cumin as the dominant spice, that
completely overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the crab.
Other dishes were similarly awful, included some cold,
soggy, pasty crusted "blak tiger prawn tempura" that
accompanied a nicely cooked piece of Hawaiin escolar,
the one edible part of my meal. The place is very
expensive, and was packed with customers. I just kept
wondering--what is going on here? How could this place
possibly win a food critics' award? Like Dave Feldman,
I had brunch at Diva at the Met, where the service
couldn't have been better, more helpful, or more
friendly, the black cod hash and the Thai seafood hot
pot were both very good, and the Stilton cheescake was
absolutely to die for--one of the best deserts I've
ever had, accompanied by a nicely tart, not
oversugared, rhubarb-strawberry compote. I'd go back
to Diva for the Stilton cheesecake alone.
re: Tom Armitage
I feel your pain. Your meal at "C" sounds truly
awful. Ours was nowhere near this bad, partly because
we didn't order dishes as complicated as these. One
meal wasn't enough for me to dismiss the restaurant
out of town. Perhaps it isn't that the emperor has no
clothes, but that the emperor is wearing a polka-dot
shirt with striped pants.
I've been eating Tojo's food on an average of once a week for more than 15 years and I've never had the same meal twice.
Yes, it can be more expensive to say "omakase" (that is, "serve me what you recommend" - but the price is never as high as it might be for a comparable meal in one of Vancouver's (or any other city's) best restaurants.
Of which you might include Vancouver's Bishop's, Lumiere, Crocodile, Chartwell, and the Indian-fusion Vij's
And while you will do well ordering the seasonal specialties, you run the risk of missing something that Tojo has just thought up, based on what happens to be available. My last meal included caribou, muskox and arctic char, for instance, because a representative of the NorthWest Territories had sent some down to see if Tojo could dream up recipes for northern chefs to serve to Japanese tourists.
Of course, you can always suggest your own budget along with a request for omakase. That could prevent any unpleasant surprise near the end.
I'd agree with you about C - fussy. Tries to hard.
Sun Sui Wah is very good for dim sum. There are two locations. One on Main Street and one in Richmond, closer to the airport.
And do check out the newest superb Japanese restaurant - EN -upstairs at 11th and Granville. As this writing (12/99) relatively undiscovered and inexpensive.
re: Paul Belserene
Just got back from another trip to Vancouver. This time we finally got to Tojo's. An incredible place. Don't let expense scare anyone away from saying omakase. We sat at the sushi bar where Tojo took care of us with at least ten wonderful dishes. First time there should definitely be at the sushi bar where you get personal service from Tojo. The price was $140 Canadian. Memorable dishes include; King crab salad, Tojo's special tuna, Nigiri sushi with crab, scallop and Herring roe.
We also made another special trip to Phnom Phen especially for the garlic squid. One of my favorite dishes.
the vancouver magazine poll that someone mentioned earlier is a very good resource; it is a bible in our house. this is my first visit to ChowHound, and i suppose i'll just mention a few of my favourites.
seafood is a good bet anywhere in vancouver, as it's so fresh. i've eaten at "C" before, and although it wasn't so bad as previously described, it's not one of my favourites. the portions are over-large, and the menu, while adventurous, is a bit too elaborate.
"Lumiere" is to die for. they've changed their format from a couple of years ago to tasting menus. there are always three available, usually one meat-based, one seafood-based, and one vegetarian; also, there's a special chef's menu using rare ingredients or holiday inspiration. the meals usually last about three hours, and consist of 8-10 courses.
if you're looking for medium-priced restaurants, my favourites include the following:
"Octopus Garden" - a small, cheerful sushi restaurant in the heart of Kits with incredibly fresh fish and inventive dishes, like their curry-tempura squid. yum!
"Maria's" - hearty greek food. the best prawn tempura in the city.
"Regal Beagle" - despite its stupid name, they have very good brunches on the weekends, with a delicious selection of eggs benedict(s).
that's just some i can think of now. hope to post again!