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Vancouver Report Back: Hapa, The Spot Café, Peaceful Restaurant, etc. (Sort of Long, Very Positive)

susancinsf Jul 28, 2008 09:01 AM

In the following post: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/538106 I asked for help for a day in Vancouver that coincided with the Celebration of Light Saturday. I am happy to report back that our short visit was a complete success (and eating was a main activity). My only regret is that we didn’t have time for a longer visit.

Here is where we ate:

HAPA: before my report, I have to set the stage, just in case it influenced our judgement a bit. As I mentioned in the original post, we were in Vancouver at the end of a ten day trip on a small (22 passenger) dive boat, travelling from Juneau, diving and kayaking along the way. This was my fourth time doing this journey. We had a great time despite less than optimal weather, but unfortunately, the regular cook on the boat, who is from Mexico and quite good, chose the time of our trip to go on vacation. Alas, his replacement was not nearly as good, and while we had had plenty to eat for the past ten days, our small group of diving friends had been subjected to overcooked meats, bland soups, dry cakes, and the replacement cook’s attempts to follow the regular boat chef recipes without any clue as to Mexican ingredients or techniques (tortilla soup made with canned broth and flour tortillas was the trip low!).

Add to this the fact that no pork is ever served on the boat and well, we docked in Vancouver in serious need of good food and ready to eat! So, I am not sure if Hapa was as good as we thought at the time, or if we were just primed, but either way, we had a fabulous meal!

Our original reservation was for six persons, but despite the crowds in the area for the fireworks, they were very gracious about adding a seventh starving diver with about four hours notice. Indeed, while it was busy while we were there (from six to about eight pm) it never did completely fill up. We walked by Guu later, and it was packed, as was Zakkushi. As the Hounds noted, Hapa was relatively quiet and serene (no problem for seven of us to talk, at all); we were seated at a round table in the back.

We stuck to pitchers of Sapporo to drink. Everything we tried was WONDERFUL, and all seven of us, which included a few folks who had never tried Izakaya-style cooking, loved it…but as I say, we were primed.

I didn’t take detailed notes so am not sure I will remember all the selections, but dishes we tried included:

Kubota dip: as I think others on the board have mentioned, though listed as an appetizer this seemed almost like a dessert: Kubota squash pudding with a crème fraiche type of topping, served with toast points. Lovely comfort food.

Tuna and scallop ceviche (from the specials selections): small cubes of tuna, scallop and a third seafood which escapes me at the moment, dressed and served in endive leafs. Delicious, perfectly fresh.

Edamame: nice smoky flavor

Pickled vegetables: beautifully arranged on the plate, also delicious.

Braised eggplant (also a special): this also had a lovely, complex smoky flavor. Another hit, though when it comes to eggplant, I will admit to being easy to please.

Pork belly: we were pretty much all desperate for a pork fix, so ordered two of this, and it was a highlight. The braised pork belly portions were quite generous, with star anise flavoring (I think) and green onion, plus a bit of frisee, and were served with some type of steamed pancake and a bit of hot mustard. We were instructed to make a sandwich of the bun/pancake: net result tasted sort of like the best Char Siu Bao I ever ate in my life….heaven.

Beef tendons: another highlight. Several of the group were a bit unsure and squeamish about unusual parts of the cow….until they took a bite. Absolutely the most delicious, tender, perfectly cooked beef I’d had in a long, long time. Outstanding. After one bite, a second serving was immediately ordered!

Udon with chicken and vegetables: noodles were toothsome, perfectly cooked.

Baked salmon in parchment (also a special): I was given the task of unwrapping the parchment: as I did, the aroma of butter put a smile on all of our faces: King salmon, baked in butter and miso, on a bed of shitake mushrooms. More heaven.

Rice bowl with tomato, chicken and vegetables: served still sizzling in a stone bowl and with some chile heat. We fought over the ‘crispy bits’.

Dessert: what the heck, there were seven of us, so we just ordered one each of all five of the desserts on offer. My favorites were the almond pudding, which was enhanced by garnishes of perfectly ripe and sweet cherry tomatoes (who knew they’d be so perfect in a dessert?), and the cream puff, with real whipped cream and green tea ice cream. That cream puff put Beard Papa to shame. Actually, the chocolate cheesecake was pretty darn good too.

Service throughout was excellent: friendly, accommodating and perfectly timed. They cheerfully divided the bill among various credit cards.

Total bill for seven of us including tax, four pitchers of beer, and a mandatory tip of 15% (included for large groups) was approximately $275 Canadian. I thought it was a bargain for the quality and quantity of food and the excellent service and ambiance. We left stuffed and very, very happy. I’d go back in a heartbeat! (and probably will).

As an aside, we met up after the fireworks (USA put on a nice show, but not a great one. I doubt if they will win) with several of the boat passengers who turned up their noses at the idea of Izakaya (what can I say, there are always some in every group), and on my suggestion, they had tried Tapastree and absolutely raved about it. Indeed, one of that group of four proclaimed the meal at Tapastree her best restaurant experience in years, fwiw.).

THE SPOT CAFE: Hubby and I knew we’d be meeting a Vancouver friend at Peaceful Restaurant for an early lunch, so we wanted only a light breakfast. We ended up at Spot Café on Denman. Just had a bagel and cream cheese, which was fine, and a coffee and a latte, but I have to say, either their coffee was exceptionally good, or the bar is quite high in Vancouver. Definitely some of the better coffee I’ve had in a long while. Very friendly service and a small patio.

PEACEFUL RESTAURANT: It was time to take a break from our diving friends, and anyway they all wanted to go do touristy things, and hubby and I wanted to eat, so we arranged to meet our friend J who lives in the burbs south of Vancouver for lunch at Peaceful Restaurant. She rarely comes into town, but when she heard that the Peaceful Restaurant menu includes hand-pulled noodles, she jumped at the chance!

At eleven thirty or so we were the first patrons. It later got busy but never full (we left between 12:30 and 1). I didn’t like the table for three we were offered, as it was rather small, and asked if we could have the table for four by the front window. The host shook his head in refusal and offered us another small table for three, without even a smile and barely a word of hello (and the four top was still empty when we left). I was worried this didn’t bode well, but it is absolutely the only nit-picking complaint I had about the place. Indeed, even the service improved vastly: our server was full of smiles and quite efficient.

We tried to restrain our ordering to reasonable amounts, which was not easy given that there were only three of us and lots to try. I had forgotten to take my CH notes, so we just ordered what sounded good to us, and we ended up with:

The Beef rolls, which we ordered because this was the only dish I remembered everyone raving about, and while they were quite tasty, they actually were our least favorite: good, well-flavored, but somewhat greasy. I was somewhat surprised at how greasy they were given the prior recommendations : perhaps we hit them on a bad day for the beef rolls? Well, a bad day for those beef rolls still isn’t bad, and while I am not sure I would order them again I wouldn’t complain if someone insisted …

XLB: well, of course we had to sample the XLB, particularly since J had never tried them (!). These were an excellent version; skins were a lovely thin texture, lots of flavorful soup. J commented after her first taste that she needed to get out of the burbs more often…you think? :-

)

Xi’an White Lamb stew: I was drawn to this dish on the Specialty Noodles portion of the menu because it isn’t a dish I’ve seen in San Francisco. J and hubby were drawn to it because they love lamb…but when we ordered it our server looked hesitant, asked us if we had tried it before and told us it was gamey and might be an acquired taste…ok, at that point we knew we had to try it and promised her we wouldn’t complain if we didn’t like it!

Once it arrived, we took one bite and all smiled: absolutely delicious and probably our favorite dish of lunch (our server was quite happy as well when she saw the smiles and how quickly it disappeared). The lamb was probably really mutton, which accounted for the gamey taste, but it certainly wasn’t overpowering, and meshed well with the flavors of squares of tofu, napa cabbage, cellophane noodles and cilantro. Perfect for a cool summer’s day.

Xin Jiang Noodle: I noticed that other Hounds hadn’t been enthusiastic about this dish, but we loved it. Thick hand-pulled noodles in a flavorful broth with chunks of star anise and whole cloves of garlic, along with jalapenos, chicken and potatoes. Another hit.

We never thought we’d finish all that food, but somehow we managed. Total for lunch with tea, ice water, tax and tip and too much food for three people was about $37 Canadian. Another bargain, and another place I can’t wait to go back to in order to sample more of the menu.

After lunch we had to stretch our legs, which gave us the perfect excuse to support the local economy by checking out the great consignment women’s clothing store and the even greater map store, both in the same block as Peaceful Restaurant…as we were leaving one shop with purchases in hand the owner thanked us for our visit and told me that I was ‘so lucky to live in San Francisco’…I thought to myself, ‘perhaps, but you are even luckier to live in Vancouver!’.

Thanks hounds for the great short visit and the advice, and I hope to be back soon!

-----
Peaceful Restaurant
532 W Broadway, Vancouver, BC V5Z1E9, CA

Hapa Izakaya
1479 Robson St, Vancouver, BC V6G1C1, CA

Spot Cafe
805 Denman St, Vancouver, BC V6G2L7, CA

  1. PolarBear Jul 28, 2008 05:19 PM

    Great report, Susan. Always good to hear from hounds we've learned to trust on their new explorations. Definitely give Guu w/Garlic a try next time you're up that way. It's different on several levels, since I haven't tried any of the other izakayas, I can't imagine what a quiet situation would be like, but the party atmosphere sitting at the bar at Guu, exhanging stories with locals and touristas alike on our right and left, seemed to carry over to other places we loved, like Banana Leaf. We'll definitely give Hapa a try next trip. Oh yes, the other thing about Guu, LadyPB and I tried our absolute best to spend more than $50 CN for the two of us on our last trip, and only managed to top it by a couple of bucks incl. tax and a generous tip, guess I should mention that we are not light/dainty eaters.

    I've made copious notes from fmed's exceptional details on Peaceful, as well as other XLB and Sichuan possibilities, so good to hear your take on Peaceful as well, it's on the list.

    Our last visit was a week in Victoria and a week in Vancouver, would trade some of the former for more exploration of the north island and maybe double down in the greater YVC area (ie Richmond, Burnaby, Coquitlam). Keep up the great feedback.

    Cheers,

    Dave

    2 Replies
    1. re: PolarBear
      susancinsf Jul 28, 2008 06:43 PM

      Thanks PB: I really need to start planning my next trip too! I definitely would have done more of a crawl if the firework crowds hadn't been an issue.

      We did a bit of exploring of the north island on our way down, but alas, no food finds to report...however, if you get to Telegraph Cove, do check out the whale museum!

      1. re: susancinsf
        d
        darren 604 Jul 29, 2008 12:17 PM

        Great report indeed, susancinsf. Glad you liked your visit to Hapa (I have enjoyed it as well). Service in Vancouver, when it comes to food is quite miss and hit, but when it hits, it hits hard!

    2. fmed Jul 28, 2008 10:24 AM

      Thanks for the report susaninsf.

      8 Replies
      1. re: fmed
        grayelf Jul 28, 2008 03:46 PM

        Great report, susaninsf. So glad you enjoyed all your meals but Peaceful especially as it is a real personal favourite. I've never had a beef roll there that was particularly greasy but as you know there have been varying reports on these boards. I think you were probably served by the owners' daughter -- she is delightful, always cheery and very well informed (and informing) about the menu.

        1. re: grayelf
          susancinsf Jul 29, 2008 08:04 AM

          thanks grayelf! Indeed, she did seemed quite informed. I wanted to add a general comment that (with the sole exception of the Peaceful host) service everywhere during our short visit, including the hotel staff, shop workers, restaurant staff, and even taxi drivers, (coming into town from the boat dock the taxi driver actually offered to let me use his cell to make a call when he overheard me mention that mine was out of juice. I can't imagine that happening in San Francisco!) was impressively friendly, accomodating, and efficient. J somewhat cynically said that she thought some of this was being officially encouraged in preparation for the 2010 Olympics, but whatever the reason, Vancouverites have a lot of reasons to be proud of their wonderful city and residents! (not to mention the great restaurants :-))

          1. re: susancinsf
            toutefrite Jul 29, 2008 09:18 AM

            I would submit that here in Vancouver, good service is good, and bad servicei is just as consistently bad ta certain places and most people here couldn't give a damn about the olympics. I can rely on surly, hostile servers at some of my favorite places and if that were to change come 2010, I would fall down laughing! I enjoyed your report. I think that the coffee bar is generally higher here than in the US. It is there I have had some of the best food, and most awful coffee to respectively please and scald my palate.

            1. re: toutefrite
              peter.v Jul 29, 2008 09:53 AM

              Haha, yeah, I was going to say I'm pretty sure there has been no official push for friendly service, and I doubt there ever will be. Is anyone really thinking about the olympics yet? (Barring anti-olympic protesters, politicians and athletes of course... haha.)

              1. re: peter.v
                fmed Jul 29, 2008 10:24 AM

                (I'm not a supporter of the Olympics).

                The Olympics is on my mind - especially after the Pemberton Music Fest when the Sea-to-Sky turned into a long parking lot.

                It's only a few weeks long and it won't change any habits as far as service and dining are concerned. I see some prices being raised opportunistically - then not come down afterwards.

                1. re: fmed
                  toutefrite Jul 29, 2008 10:46 AM

                  Really? Has that happened in other cities? Will the locals stand for that? I find that being such a competitive city (food-wise), prices are kept reasonably in check. Another olympics pitfall. I definitely plan to not be anywhere this city at the time.

                  1. re: toutefrite
                    fmed Jul 29, 2008 11:06 AM

                    >> Another olympics pitfall. I definitely plan to not be anywhere this city at the time.

                    I suspect you will get good deals out in the 'burbs and Seattle and perhaps Portland...those are the places to go during the Olympics.

                    1. re: fmed
                      grayelf Jul 29, 2008 11:32 PM

                      Vancouver Chowhound road trip (away) during the Olympics? Just a thought... I'm so getting out of Dodge!

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