Food adventures in Van/Whistler
First off, I want to say thanks to all the Vancouver posters for recommending these spots. I had some fantastic food in my all too brief time back in my hometown. Particular thanks to Greyelf and Fmed for their exhaustive research in all things Vietnamese. Definite lifesavers, I have been dying here in Bermuda without it having become accustomed to having it at least once a week since my university days. Am a bit of a chatter so this post is kind of long. Read on if you dare.
So flew in Saturday night and grabbed my sister and headed out immediately. What can I say, airport food is not satisfying. Destination, downtown for izakaya. Hadn't settled on a place and was going to play by ear. Ended up settling on Hapa on Robson St. Ordered the sockeye salmon sashimi (farmed Atlantic is not even in the same league), Renkon "gyoza", and 2 of their specials which now elude me. Can't say that I was overwhelmed by the sashimi as the salmon seemed a bit watery to the both of us. The gyoza was interesting. My sis wasn't overly fond of the texture that the lotus root added to the dish and I was sitting on the fence. The pork filling was well done though, bringing me back loads of memories of gyozas and potstickers past. The hits were definitely the 2 specials which were both polished off. I think one of them involved hamachi with a citrus dressing which was very light and delicate and matched the hamachi quite well. The other dish continues to elude me. It was a long day of travelling is my excuse and I'm sticking to it! Lol. Service was excellent and for a Saturday night, we really didn't have to wait (~3 min). The atmosphere is quite energetic and the room was packed with a good turnover even though we did turn up close to 9:30. If you want something young and with a great vibe, this place is for you.
Sunday was a late lunch at Lin's for XLB. Another one of those cravings that cannot be satisfied. I've been to Joe's Shanghai in Manhattan and trust me when I say it's pretty good only when you can't get to Vancouver, but definitely not even in the same league. Ordered the XLB of course, an order of green onion pancakes and a beef noodle soup (the exact variety eludes me again). Ah...what can I say. This is the second time I've been to Lin's for the XLB and it's still good. Nice thin skin and very tasty broth. Porky goodness, my only downside was that I didn't think it was quite hot enough. Didn't even come close to scalding my mouth with the filling which is a good thing but that's all part of the experience. The green onion pancakes were fried quite well, not too greasy and nice texture but I can't say that I was particularly blown out of the water by them. Not quite enough green onion flavour I think. The beef noodles were again ok, nothing to write home about.
A quick desperation stop on Denman St for a bubble tea on the way up to Whistler was definitely forgettable. Chemical tasting was the best way to describe it and I think they shrunk the straw because my pearls kept getting stuck in the straw and required an excessive amount of force to get them out. Of course it made for some excellent entertainment during the drive up. I think I perfected my fish face.
Whistler ended up being low key as we were almost always too exhausted by the end of the day to get off the sofa. Did manage to squeeze in a trip to Bearfoot Bistro and it was definitely worth the effort. 5 course tasting menu. The meal started off with an amuse bouche of smoked duck served with granny apple slivers, quince paste and blue cheese. The flavors worked well together and it was a great little bite. First course was a quartet of fish. Tuna tartare, tuna and salmon sashimi with pickled mushrooms and yuzu jelly, tuna sashimi dusted with seaweed powder and salmon dumpling with wasabi cream. The freshness of the fish could not be disputed and each of these items was really good. The salmon dumpling was so light and airy. The tuna sashimi with seaweed powder was underwhelming for my friend but I liked the subtleness of the seaweed giving it that by the sea (in a good way) taste. Next up was a green pea risotto with lobster tail. What a difference fresh peas make in a dish. It was delicious, nice and creamy and not dense and mushy like most pedestrian risottos, studded with whole peas and with a pea puree. The colour of the peas was so vibrant against the creamy risotto. Foie gras was up next, 2 ways. Seared foie gras on fresh brioche and then a duck terrine studded with foie and candied figs. I found the seared foie a little on the large size. Foie is so rich that you really only need two bites especially in a 5 course tasting. The duck terrine was served with an apple puree and quince jam and it was excellent. Am big fan of pate like food and so no big surprise there. The next dish was the most disappointing of them all. It was a pheasant breast cooked sous vide with ? reduction, an individual pheasant pie and sweetbreads served with a butternut squash/carrot puree. Both the breast and the "pie" were not seasoned correctly with the breast being undersalted and the reduction and "pie" being too salty. The sweetbreads were fantastic though. Crispy outside, creamy inside combined with the slightly sweet puree. Great combo. The house threw in a cheese tasting to make up for the slightly underwhelming meat main. We tasted 3 difference cheeses but honestly, by this time, we were both so full we could only taste them and then there was still dessert. Here's where I lose my memory. The only things I remember were the elder flower panna cotta served with ? and it was really tasty being light and smooth. The sorbet was a zinger but I found it a bit too sweet. Petit fours included a sea salt and caramel truffle which we weren't too fond of but then again, neither of us like those granola bars that are sweet and salty. Overall, a fantastic experience with superb service. Our waiter was extremely attentive and had a pretty good knowledge of the wine list and recommended a bottle that went reasonably well with all the different courses. Pricey but I found the experience was well worth it.
Was late coming back from Whistler on Friday night so ended up dining solo. Headed to Pho Thai Hoa immediately for an instant pho fix. And what can I say. I was definitely rewarded. Ordered the special (or as I fondly refer to it as the kitchen sink model) as it has all the bits. Have to say it's the best version I've had in a long time. There were actually chunks of tender, but with some texture still, tendon. I'm so used to getting those microscopic slivers so already off to a good start. The broth was fantastic. Very light and fragrant and not too oily. There was something extra in this particular broth that I really enjoyed but seeing as it was 2 weeks ago, my memory of the extra fragrance has now faded out. Everything else in my bowl was perfectly done, nice pieces of tripe and thin sliced rare beef.
Saturday was dim sum at Red Star on Granville St. A little more upscale in feel than some other places. Overall, the food was excellent and being there with the entire extended family (11 of us) allowed us to sample quite a large variety of dishes. This is one of the order from the card places so you know that the dishes are being prepared fresh for you. And I was definitely not disappointed. Not a comprehensive list but here are some of the dishes that stood out a bit for me. Braised (?) pea tips with bean curd sheets, bbq duck with "lai fun" in soup, siu mai's (nice size and good flavor and texture, not just a sodden lump of pork as many places have). The chicken feet were not exceptional but were pretty darn good. Not quite tender enough but the flavor was good. I use chicken feet as a gauge for dim sum, I'm a bit obsessed and I admit it. Dessert was interesting with these "killer whale" dumplings. They're purple in color (from taro?), shaped like a whale and filled with "lian yoong" which I believe is a type of bean paste. Tasty but odd, guess it keeps the kids entertained (see pic).
Last meal, finally...Shota Sushi. Decent quality sushi for a neighbourhood joint. They had fresh mackeral in and if you've only ever had that fishy smelling, greasy tasting mackeral, this is the complete opposite. Never again will you settle. They offered to deep fry the skeleton afterwards but by this point, I needed to run for the airport. Uni (sea urchin) was fresh and sweet tasting (still not as good as the uni shooter at Octopus Garden which was absolutely to die for). Also ordered the agadashi tofu, nice and lightly battered with a perfectly balanced dipping sauce. The only disappointment was a seafood soup noodle dish which had an odd tasting broth. But otherwise a nice place to retreat to for the neighbourhood.
So if you're still reading this, thanks for sharing my culinary adventures and thanks again to all the Vancouver Chowers for posting all their reviews. Without you guys, would never had had such tasty travels.
Lin Chinese Cuisine and Tea House
1537W Broadway W, Vancouver, BC V6J1W6, CA
Red Star Seafood Restaurant
8298 Granville St, Vancouver, BC V6P4Z4, CA
Pho Thai Hoa Restaurant
1625 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC V5N2S2, CA
1479 Robson St, Vancouver, BC V6G1C1, CA
Bear Foot Bistro
4121 Village Green, Whistler, BC V0N1B4, CA
5688 Yew St, Vancouver, BC V6M3Y3, CA
Wow! Thanks for the report. Very detailed.
>>I've been to Joe's Shanghai in Manhattan and trust me when I say it's pretty good only when you can't get to Vancouver, but definitely not even in the same league.
Totally agree there...the more I keep hearing about XLB in other cities, the more I believe Vancouver has the best XLB on this continent. I need to experience more recent places in San Gabriel Valley and Queens to confirm this for myself.
>> Saturday was dim sum at Red Star on Granville St.
Great spot for dim sum...I wish it was closer to where I live so I can go more often.
>>Did manage to squeeze in a trip to Bearfoot Bistro and it was definitely worth the effort. 5 course tasting menu.
It's been ages....it is definitely is a worthy splurge.
Thanks to you guys for all the great tips over the past while.
I should be having another trip to NYC in the next month or so. Hopefully I can find some Chinese up to Vancouver standards. I've been talking to a friend who used to live there and he says definitely that Queens is the place for good Chinese. Have always been disappointed everytime I try someplace in Manhattan Chinatown even when the resto was packed to the gills. Keeping my fingers crossed. On the other hand, I did have a ridiculously awesome banh mi. It was a 20 minute wait for it but it was definitely worth it.
Grayelf...have no fear of the card! Can't read a lick of Chinese and I sometimes am embarassed to ask the waiter to translate everything but at the end of the day, it's all worth it I find. Still love the carts for the randomness and is a great intro to non dim-summers but you can't beat the freshness of card ordering.
Can't wait to organize my next trip back to the hood, need to try Lime and it sounds like Market is worth a visit. Oh well, maybe summer if I'm lucky.