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Sweeney856 Jul 27, 2009 09:37 PM

I'm a NY hounder who will be making my first trip to British Columbia in a few weeks. I'm driving up from Seattle and spending one day and night in Vancouver then eventually driving to Cranbrook for a wedding. I know this is quite a long drive so I'm splitting it up a bit. I'm staying somewhere near Osoyoos (probably in Grand Forks since it seems cheaper than Osoyoos.) I'm also staying a few days at a friend's lake house in an area called Boswell on the Kootenay Lake. Then finally I will be driving down to Spokane to fly back to NY. Whew!

But the point is I am looking for lots of recommendations as to where to eat along the way. I definitely want to try anything that is unique or authentic for British Columbia.

I've done some research on Vancouver restaurants and am thinking of doing an omakase dinner on my one splurge night. Do you think this is a better option than one of the fancy seafood restaurants and the izkayas? I was looking at Tojo's, (seems like it has had mixed reviews of late), Octopus Garden (seems to be the overwhelming favorite), or Ajisai (but it doesn't seem to be the place for omakase). Also, maybe Cafe Medina for breakfast and Go Fish for lunch? Other suggestions? I'm also a big ice cream connoisseur, so am always looking for great places.

Also, please help with places along the way for my drive from Vancouver to Cranbrook. I think I may stop in Osoyoos for some wine and sightseeing unless you recommend somewhere else.

Thanks so much in advance. And I promise a full report upon my return.

  1. s
    Sweeney856 Sep 10, 2009 02:57 PM

    So I'm back from an amazing journey through British Columbia. I had an incredible time - met some wonderful people, ate some great food, and enjoyed breathtaking scenery. I spent the night in Penticton rather than driving to Grand Forks. Thanks to all who gave suggestions along the way. I'm sorry I wasn't able to get to everybody's recommendations, but that just means I have an excuse to make another trip out west.

    And now, as promised, here is my report on all my food adventures. There aren't a lot of entries on chowhound west of Vancouver, so hopefully this will help a bit:

    GO FISH in Vancouver was pretty crowded even at an off time for lunch. I'm guessing because it had a nice view from the harbor. But we eventually found two counter seats. We ordered the halibut and chips and also the salmon tacone. The employees were hipster types who seemed disinterested in just about everything except the radio. But somehow, they delivered some of the best food I had on my entire trip. The fish and chips were the best I ever had!!! The halibut was incredibly fresh and meaty and the batter was delicious and perfectly fried. The fries were also incredible - they had an almost creamy flavor. The tacone was also very good with a nice slightly spicy Asian slaw. This was a really great place and they know how to cook their fish. I was very impressed.

    TOJO'S was our choice for an expensive sushi meal in Vancouver. It was between here and Octopus' Garden. We chose Tojo's because it seems to have the most longevity. We were seated promptly and decided on the $110 omakase. There were a few cheaper options, but we figured we'd only be here once, so may as well try as much food as possible. I was excited when we told the waiter that we were open to eating anything. I was hoping for some interesting and unique dishes. We ordered a smooth, creamy bottle of sake and then the food started coming. Everything was fresh and tasted good, but nothing blew my mind. And everything sort of consisted of the same fish - scallops, salmon, tuna, etc. The stand-out was the smoked sablefish wrapped in paper. The finale was sushi and maki rolls, but they were all variations on the same flavors. I will say all the sushi was fresh, but the omakase experience was not worth the money. I would have rather just ordered some sashimi and been done with it (and saved a lot of money). The worst part of the entire experience was the service. Our server seemed very friendly and charming at first, but that was almost the last we saw of him. The food came out and was never explained. We had no idea what we were eating until we asked. I like not knowing what I'm getting, but once it's in front of me, I want to know what it is. Our water never once got refilled without me begging. And then as the night went on, the server rushed us. He stood next to my friend, waiting for her to finish her food. I was shocked and horrified that we felt rushed - especially at these prices. I was very excited about shelling out the dough for a great omakase experience, but this was not worth it by any means. I'm kicking myself we didn't go to Octopus' Garden.

    SALTY'S BEACH HOUSE in Penticton was very kitschy and sort of reminded me of a tiki bar on the beach. It's on the main drag of a very touristy area along the lake. This is the kind of cheesy place where I often worry about the food. It was packed with families and couples drinking drinks with umbrellas. I wasn't too hungry so I ate light - ordering the greek salad and the oyster appetizer. The greek salad was a bit boring. I was surprised that it had no greens at all but consisted of only cucumbers, peppers, onions, and tomatoes. No grape leaves or olives. The vegetables were all fresh, but the salad was lacking. The oyster beach house appetizer was quite good. The oysters were slightly sauteed so that they were almost still raw, but they were doused with a red sauce that had a tropical and Asian flavor. It was slightly sweet and gingery and very delicious. I was disappointed there were only four oysters so I asked for some bread to sop up the delicious sauce (the bread cost $1.50!!!) The food seemed to have promise here and I almost wish I was hungrier so I'd have tried more.

    TINHORN CREEK was the first winery I stopped at in Oliver. I was so impressed by their hospitality and kindness. I was warmly greeted as soon as I entered the building, poured a glass of Pinot Grigio, and told about the self-guided tour. It was a beautiful vineyard. The wines weren't bad and they were reasonably priced. I was really hoping to try their ice wine, but they were sold out.

    INISKILLIN was just a few meters down the street in Oliver. They offered four free samples (including their featured wine) and for $5 you could try two of their ice wines. That was a bit steep, but I loved their ice wines and was eager to taste the new tempranillo ice wine. It was deliciously sweet and had a lot of strawberry notes. And the Dark Horse Reisling ice wine was awesome - very complex.

    PASSA TEMPO in Osoyoos in the Spirit Ridge resort is inside the lobby, next to the Nk'mip Cellars building. I sat on the terrace overlooking the pool and the mountains. It was beautiful! I just got a small lunch. The tapas portion of the maple smoked salmon wasn't too small. It was a nice balance between sweet and smoky. And the local greens salad featured some really fresh produce and a nice apple cider vinaigrette. The server was knowledgeable and enthusiastic. This is a great place and their dinner menu looked fantastic.

    BLACK SALT CAFE in Crawford Bay on the Kootenay Lake was a nice surprise. This is in the middle of a resort town off of Highway 3A. The cafe is cute with a mismatched decor that surprisingly comes across as hip, relaxed, and charming. There's a patio which looked nice, but was sort of overrun with wasps, so we decided to sit inside below strange artwork. We shared a crab salad sandwich and a smoked salmon wrap. Both were fresh and tasty but nothing out of this world. The carrot ginger soup was flavorful, but not too complex and could have been hotter. The desserts were the best part - a lemon curd white chocolate cake and a key lime tart - both were perfectly balanced with tart and sweetness. Our waiter was definitely laid back and it translated to our service. But the experience was fun and the food interesting enough in such a remote area of BC. Their tapas and dinner menus sounded quite good, as well.

    A BREAK IN TIME in Creston is a small coffee shop that serves good fresh food in a relaxed atmosphere. The chicken guacamole sandwich had nice textures and flavors and really hit the spot. We got our food to go, so I can't speak too much for the service or the ambiance.

    FISHER PEAK LOUNGE at St. Eugene's Resort in Cranbrook is more for guests of the resort, but you could come in for a bite if you so desired. It seemed more like a lounge for drinks, but they featured a full menu with lots of Aboriginal dishes. I ordered the Lobster and Dungeness Crab Salad which was quite delicious. It had big pieces of crab meat and was tossed with a vinaigrette rather than mayo, which was a nice change. It was paired with fresh tomatoes, onions, and grapefruit. The waitress (who wasn't terribly pleasant) suggested an order of garlic toast to go with the salad and she was right, it worked well together.

    PURCELL GRILL, also in St. Eugene's, seems a little less fancy - although it was really tough to get a vibe from all the different restaurants within St. Eugene's. They all had similar ambiance and almost identical menus. This was the restaurant that served breakfast, so I can only speak for that experience. I skipped the buffet since it was winding down by the time I got out of bed. Instead, I ordered an egg white omlette, which was pretty disappointing. The cheese sort of over-took the egg and it looked like a mess. An even bigger problem was that all the jams on the table were dried out and it was really difficult for the waitress to find a fresh packet. The potatoes were fortunately cooked well.

    BOOSTER JUICE seems to be Canada's version of Jamba juice. The smoothies were good, but I don't recommend the sandwiches there. I was in a bind between this place and Tim Horton's and I chose what seemed the better option. The sweet pepper and steak wrap had a decent garlicky mayo flavor, but the steak was leathery and not terribly fresh. I didn't finish it.

    i know it seems like I ended on a negative note, but I had an amazing time in British Columbia and am upset I wasn't able to try more unique food (e.g., the Russian food in Grand Forks, izakayas in Vancouver, Chinese food in Richmond) and explore Vancouver a bit more- my time was limited. I'll just have to find an excuse to come back soon.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Sweeney856
      fmed Sep 10, 2009 04:30 PM

      Too bad about your experience at Tojo's, Sweeney....it seems to be a familiar refrain: "not worth the money", "poor service"...are you listening Tojo-san?

      1. re: fmed
        grayelf Sep 10, 2009 04:59 PM

        Thanks for the great writeups, especially on places we don't hear about too often. I fear I will go to my grave without eating omakase, as I have yet to hear raves for it anywhere in Vancouver at least, much less Tojo's :-).

    2. a
      alichris Aug 6, 2009 03:03 PM

      I was in Bellingham this past weekend and went to Mallard's for the first time. I must agree with balini, it was amazing creamy ice cream. I had the black pepper vanilla and mint oreo. For lunch, we went to Fiamma Burger, just down the block and had awesome burgers!

      I would definitely stop in Bellingham on the way up if you're looking for a good burger and/or ice cream, as those things are not strongly represented in Vancouver. I've heard also that La Fiamma in Bellingham (related to Fiamma Burger) has excellent pizza, although I haven't been and can't personally recommend.

      If you are going to be in the Penticton/Naramata area, I had lunch last year at Lake Breeze winery on the patio and it was excellent.

      Enjoy your trip!

      1. s
        Sweeney856 Aug 2, 2009 10:48 AM

        So instead of stopping in Grand Forks, I'm now thinking of spending the night in Princeton and then getting an early start, do some sightseeing in Oliver and Osoyoos and then doing the rest of the drive out to Boswell on the Kootenay Lake. I feel like that might give me the most time to see as much as possible without rushing. What are everybody's thoughts on that?

        2 Replies
        1. re: Sweeney856
          Cancuk Aug 2, 2009 11:04 PM

          Princeton = Grand Forks. Not much in either town. Grand Forks at least has solid borsht.

          I would recommend going farther than Princeton (it's only 3 hours from Vancouver). If you don't want to stay in Osooyos, there is also Keremeos (about 45 minutes before Osooyos) that is just as terrible as Princeton or Grand Forks, except that it has some wineries in the vicinity that you could go to after your drive (I would recommend Orofino).

          FYI, the drive from Vancouver - Grand Forks is 6 hours at most... really closer to 5 (this isn't including stopping at wineries, etc).

          1. re: Sweeney856
            Cynsa Aug 6, 2009 06:06 AM

            We drove from San Francisco, California to Vancouver, B.C. to Spokane, Washington -
            enjoying a stop for lunch in Osoyoos on July 31 at the Wildfire Grill. Here are photos of our shrimp caesar salad and the salmon wrap - the food is fresh and light and the service, friendly and delightful! Try the Okanogan wines! There's also a lovely patio at
            Wildfire Grill
            8526 Main St
            Osoyoos, BC V0H 1V0, Canada

             
             
             
          2. q
            QAW Jul 28, 2009 08:32 AM

            As you near Osoyoos, the Sonora Room at the Burrowing Owl winery becomes only a short and pleasant detour. If you are on the clock, Passa Tempo, at the Spirit Ridge resort in Osoyoos can also be a good fit. Both feature local B.C. cuisine, which is truly special around this time of the year.

            While driving up to Kelowna from Las Vegas we also had a good meal at Mizuna in Spokane, if you need to do anything more than just head to the airport. You will love the scenery along Lake Roosevelt after you cross the border.

            1. p
              pengcast Jul 28, 2009 08:23 AM

              There are several good choices for winery stops not far from Osoyoos. My favourite is Tin Horn Creek. It may mean a short side trip but is worth. Great reds and they practice sustainable farming.

              1. fmed Jul 27, 2009 09:59 PM

                Your Vancouver choices are solid. I'd be curious to see what others say about ice cream in Vancouver (it's not something I seek, but I do love good ice cream). If gelato counts as ice cream, then Gelato Amore on Commercial Drive makes my favourite gelatos.

                Know that Grand Forks and environs is Doukhobor territory and may be worth seeking that particular cuisine. The one I (and most tourists) know about is the Grand Forks Hotel. It has been a number of years since we drove through that area and I'm sure that there are more current recommendations that that one. I never really found anything good in the town of Osoyoos, but once again, it has been years.

                It's a nice drive (albeit a hot one...rent a car with A/C).

                -f

                4 Replies
                1. re: fmed
                  grayelf Jul 27, 2009 11:37 PM

                  I happened to be reading another recent New Yorker's comments on a different board and FWIW he loved Fuel and felt that the dimsum he had at Sun Sui Wah and Kirin were superior to any he'd had at home.

                  In terms of sushi, it's something Vancouver has in plenty and some of it is very good -- we get a lot of comments about value for money too. If you decide to try Ajisai, just a word of caution: it is very much a neighbourhood place and not a splurge either in cost or in ambiance. Not that it is cheap, but again good value. I don't believe they take reservations and the lineups can be egregious starting right after opening. The other thing is that the only good seats are at the bar -- the other tables (and there are precious few) are weirdly angled and have uncomfortable seats, especially the benchy things. All of this does not change my mind about the quality and value -- I just tend to get takeout :-).

                  I don't really feel like Vancouver is an ice cream contendah. Certainly not compared to San Francisco, where it is a contact sport. We do have a number of gelato places that are okay. The two most famous are my least favourite: Mario's and La Casa Gelato. Right now I like the one fmed mentioned and Paradiso Italian Gelato in Kits which has killer sorbets. The lemon just destroys me, with the mango and mixed berry a close second and third. You can get them mixed -- bliss. Not too "thin" like some sorbets, tangy but rich and tasty. SO swears by the more standard gelato fare there and I trust his judgment and the tastes I've had. Rats -- now I want one. It is just a door over from the Kits outpost of Hapa Izakaya if you wanted to combine the two, and it's a stone's throw from Octopus Garden, though it might be closed by the time you finished omakase -- I understand it can be a marathon there :-).

                  1. re: grayelf
                    balini Jul 28, 2009 08:25 AM

                    Hey Sweeney...I do the drive from Seattle to Vancouver and from Vancouver to Grand Forks almost every year...so here are a few suggestions for you. If you are driving to YVR the same day you fly into Seattle you may not be looking for any stops but if you are getting close to Bellingham and it's still light out and you're hungry I would highly recommend taking a detour off I-5 just north of Mount Vernon and take Chuckanut Drive (Route 11) north to Bellingham where you will rejoin I-5 and continue on to Vancouver. This is an incredibly beautiful scenic drive and there are three great restaurants along the way, it's a little bit slower route, and you will want to stop and take in the views but it if the weather is good and the timing is right it will be the highlight of your drive.

                    Rhododendron Cafe: charming and delicious no ocean view tho, it will be first; not long after you exit I- 5 
http://rhodycafe.com/index.php

                    Chuckanut Manor will be next, oceanside, classic place
http://www.chuckanutmanor.com/

                    The Oyster Bar: Amazing view and excellent seafood.

                    http://www.theoysterbaronchuckanutdrive.com/index.html

                    In Bellingham itself there is FlatsTapas Bar a wonderful little place t...http://www.flatstapas.com/Core/Index.html .

                    and since you were asking about ice cream you should probably get yourselves to Mallards for incredible homemade ice cream...(blackpepper vanilla and Lavender are two of my favorites...)
                    http://local.yahoo.com/info-22194494-mallard-ice-cream-cafe-bellingham

                    Vancouver....
                    I loved my Omakase experience at Tojo's a few years ago but have noted the mixed views here recently so I would probably go to Blue Water Cafe, The Five Sails or do a couple of Izakaya's. Cafe Medina is great for breakfast.

                    Driving to Grand Forks with a stop in Osoyoos for lunch will take between 8 and 10 hours depending on how many fruit stands and wineries you stop at! (We try to get on the road between 5:30 and 6:30 am which should be doable for you if you are still operating on East coast time.....leaving late in the morning embroils you in some pretty unpleasant traffic ) we often stop at Manning Park Lodge for breakfast, nothing special just a good quick stop, and then go to either Burrowing Owl or Nk'mip for Lunch...If you choose Borrowing Owl call them from the road once you know and reserve a table on the patio. We have stopped for lunch twice at Nk'mip Cellars in Osoyoos and loved it. The Patio views over the Lake are lovely and the whole feeling of the place is very peaceful. Interesting aboriginal inspired cooking and terrific use of the local produce. http://www.nkmipcellars.com


                    Burrowing Owl is a short and very worthwhile detour to Oliver. The restaurant is another don't miss experience.... overlooking the vineyards you feel as if you are in Tuscany; the atmosphere, food presentation and preparation here are truly inspiring not to mention the great wine.
                    http://www.bovwine.ca

                    Staying in Grand Forks will be less expensive than Osoyoos but there's not much there, a couple of motels on the river just past the bridge as you leave GF heading east look OK. Fmed was right about the Grand Forks Hotel I haven't been in years (we get our borscht in jars from a farm stand on the road to Christina Lake) but I think it's still a good place to go but If you stay there just ask where you can get good Russian food; somebody will tell you.

                    Have a great trip and let me know if there is anything else I can help with on the road trips...I'm heading to Manhattan on Thursday for a week of work combined with theatre and restaurants but will check in once I get home to see how you are doing with your plans.

                    1. re: balini
                      s
                      Sweeney856 Aug 2, 2009 10:45 AM

                      Thanks so much for all these recommendations. This is most helpful. And let me know if you need any Manhattan help.

                  2. re: fmed
                    paulj Jul 28, 2009 08:20 AM

                    I've passed through Grand Forks a couple of times on camping trips. As camper I was more interested in groceries than restaurants. This is the first place I noticed the German style deli ham. The Freybe brand is available throughout BC, but GF was the only place where I've seen both schenkin speck and baurerschenkin. Both are heavily smoked dry ham.

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