3 days in Vancouver with the Kitchen Bachelor

For those of you who’ve been fortunate or unfortunate enough to be on an Air Canada flight, you may have come across their “enRoute” in-flight magazine.  I’ve always enjoyed reading the feature called “3-days in [fill in exotic city here]”.  If you’re a jet-setter and have experienced a layover in Barcelona, Sao Paolo or Paris, you may have taken advantage of enRoute’s recommendations.  However, if you’re the average commuter on United, your story is probably about being stuck in a snow-storm in Fargo, North Dakota.

Vancouver is no Fargo.  In fact, being my home-town and being a foodie – I’ve been tasked many a time to provide an itinerary for out-of-town guests, co-workers and even strangers.  Since my specialty is food, I thought I’d write my own little enRoute blog post about “3 days in Vancouver with the Kitchen Bachelor”.

 

Day 1

4pm - Friday - YVR Airport

Take note of Vancouver tax-dollars at work as you come through the international gates and witness the soothing sounds of first-nations music, first-nations scultures, chirping birds and some sort of water dripping.  Find a washroom – quick.

5pm - Downtown Vancouver

Hopefully you didn’t smuggle anything into customs and weren’t given the glove welcome to Canada, eh?  You jumped on the Canada Line train and made it to downtown Vancouver in 25 minutes – amazing, right?  Check into hotel of choice.  Celebrity spotting at Sutton Place Hotel is common.  Westin Bayshore or Fairmont Waterfront for views. Opus Hotel in Yaletown district for funky and beautiful people.

7pm - Cocktails

Uva wine bar (900 Seymour), Earl’s Restaurants (905 Hornby) or Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel Lobby (1038 Canada Place).

9pm - Dinner Options
  1. Chambar: Belgian cuisine with Moroccan influence; the chef  traveled through Morocco.  Try the lamb tagine – it’ll make you squeal – ok maybe not.  Great belgian beer list and great mussels as well. They have a great bottle of red called Pirramimma Petit Verdot from McLaren Vale – 70 big ones but damn! Resos at least a week in advance to be safe.
  2. Adesso bistro: Northern Italian cuisine – tucked in a cosy tree-lined residential street in the West-End of downtown. Great seafood appes; delicious pastas; fresh ingredients.
  3. La faux bourgeois: Cool French bistro with dark wooden bar; authentic and warm; servers are French-ish.  Make resos in advance.
1130pm - You're still up?

Call it a night – you know you’re not exactly looking that chipper after a day of travel and all that great food in your belly.  But if you’re loco, head out to Granville Street for some revelry with 20 year olds.

Day 2

9am - Rise and shine breakie.
  1. Café Medina: Sister restaurant to Chambar.  If you went there for dinner last night and don’t mind heading back to the same area.  Belgian waffles, I hear, are amazing.  I can’t believe I haven’t been there.
  2. Café Barney – 2 locations – Main street and Granville street.  Great egg-benes, breakfast burrito and non-stop strong coffee.
  3. Urban Fare – pricey grocer but good people-gazing.  A few different locations around town.
1030am - Sights and Sounds

Walk Commercial Drive – ethnic district. Rent bikes and bike around Stanley Park seawall – 10 km. Shopping on 4th avenue in Kitsilano.  Sun at Kitsilano Beach.  Take water-taxi to Granville Island.

1pm - Hunger strikes
  1. Go-Fish!: if you made it to Granville Island, check out the fish and chip shack on the south-west side of the entrance to Granville Island along the seawall.  Ask around if you can’t find it.  Fish tacos, fish & chips wrapped in newspaper, seafood chowder – all good.
  2. Japadog – famous Japanese hot dog stand endorsed by Anthony Bourdain.  A few stands around town, but a bricks-and-mortar restaurant has opened up on Robson street as well.
  3. Sushi – Vancouver probably has as many Sushi restaurants as Starbucks.  How can you go wrong with fresh Pacific seafood?  It’s hard to go wrong but some places I visit are Honjin and Shizenya.  Stay away from all-you-can-eat sushi – come on, man!
3pm - Repeat 1030am options or nap

Yeah, that’s right.  You’re on vacation.  Have a nap. You don’t have to be 2 or 70.

455pm - "...we interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for"

If you’re interested in an early dinner, scroll down to tonight’s dinner options and go to Vij’s.  As my mum would say – there’s no time for dilly-dally here – after 5pm you’re waiting in a 2 hour queue.

6pm - Cocktail time again

Repeat from last night or try a different location.

730pm - Dinner options
  1. Wild Rice – for a little off-the-beaten track venture on the edge of Chinatown and Gastown, check out Wild Rice. Owner Andrew Wong does my people right – yes I said it, my people.  Modern Asian food with creative cocktails at a fair price – what’s not to like.
  2. Vij’s: Indian fusion. One of Vancouver’s best known chefs. No resos allowed.
  3. Mis Trucos: Mediterranean tapas in what looks like someone’s living room.  Great wine list and date spot.
930pm - Live music, anyone?
  1. Libre Room – Commerical Drive, funky ethnic district with live music sets every night.  Check out your featured cocktail based on your horoscope.
  2. Fairmont Pacific Rim – see cocktail options from Day 1.

Day 3

10am - Advil for the headache

If you partied it up the night before, you may need an Advil before breakfast.  But if you’re good to go, perhaps lace up your sneakers and go for a run on the Vancouver seawall.  Options include Yaletown, Coal-Harbour, or Kitsilano.

12pm - Lunch or see ya later

Make it out to one of the myriad restaurants you may have missed or catch the Canada-Line out of town.

We hope you enjoyed your 3 days in Vancouver with the Kitchen Bachelor.  Fresh seafood, international cuisine and a picturesque city with mountains in the backdrop.  Not bad for a layover?

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Environmentally-Friendly Sushi = Date Friendly

Shizenya Sakura Blossom Roll

My sister was recently raving about this new sushi spot called Shizenya, which is at the corner of Hornby and Nelson Street.  The owners describe their philosophy as focused on “dietary safety and environmental-protection”.  This comes to fruition with a menu that serves only wild fish, organic greens, brown rice, msg-free and with no additives.  Ironically, up the street on Burrard, was the site of the recent hazmat chemical situation with the Electra building.

In a city like Vancouver where more and more people are interested in eating wholesome local food, you can’t go wrong by taking a date to this sushi joint.  Not only will she think that you heart earth but she’ll also be impressed with the quality of fresh ingredients and your knowledge of this tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant!

Try out the Sakura Blossom Roll (see picture on right) – juicy fresh crab, spicy albacore tuna, cucumber and organic avocada, rolled with brown rice, wrapped with wild sockeye salmon, and plated with creamy maple dressing.  Hot damn!

My Love-Hate Relationship with CFD Restos

Vancouver is famous for the CFD (casual fine dining) establishments that we know as Cactus Club, Earl’s, Joey’s and Brown’s.  These restaurants operate like machines – usually good service, pagers for those on the waiting list, quick turn-around and quality checks.

Lunches are busy – if it’s the like the ones in Yaletown, you want to get your lunch crew in there just before the 12 o’clock rush to secure a table.  Then there’s the great eye-candy (sometimes resembling the cast at Rhino’s or straight off the extras’ list from Entourage) that locals know as standard hiring practice – even complaining when one gets the “B” team or a male waiter.  As in, WTF, why is the B team on today? Or why did we get the male waiter!   My friend, Carlo, even made up lyrics for a song entitled, “The Male Waiter” for our fictitious boy band many years ago.  And don’t even try taking a date here.  The whiplash and lack of eye contact with your date is a sure way NOT to get a 2nd date.

But overall, you can count on reliably tasty food.  At any of those chains, you have your standard salads, calamari, wings, burgers and if you’re at Earl’s and recently Cactus (thanks to Feenie) – you can expect a little more international or gourmet fare such as butternut squash ravioli, bbq duck clubhouse (at Cactus) and Jeera Chicken Curry and Hunan Kung Pao (at Earl’s).

Here come the “hate” part of these CFDs.  It’s cookie cutter. The line-ups can be insane.  Try the ScotiaBank Earl’s on a Friday night when the suits are still hanging out and nursing their 5th martini (Friday is Martini night, I think), combined with the pre Canuck’s game crowd and clubbers looking to get their food base before a night of boozing – and you have a recipe for 1 hour wait lines.  But don’t worry, they’ll give you a pager.  Then there’s the meek attempt at some authentic international dishes.  Cactus has a Wor Won Tun soup dish that taste like Mr. Noodle’s stepsister, made from cardboard chicken stock.  Why would you even try won tun soup in a city that has so many authentic Chinese restaurants that have mastered the art of noodles and soup?

They’re not cheap either.  With the drink specials, the beautiful babies, and the drum & bass of house music in the background, you can’t help but get that 3rd beer and springing for the half ribs and chicken special.  You’re walking out of there with a $50 bill, no doubt.

For the foodies in Vancouver, we know that if you want an authentic experience, food that you can gossip/brag to your friends about, spices that awaken your senses, you have to get out there and really take advantage of what Vancouver has to offer.  It’s unbelievable the number of people I know who rely on the old standard and take what we have for granted in this great gastromic paradise.  We have Afghani (Afghan Horseman, East is East), Cambodian (Phnom Penh), real Italian (Cibo, La Buca), Korean (Ap Gu Jung),  Mexican (Salsa & Agave, Don Guacomoles) and of course the countless Indian, Chinese and Japanese restos.

Ultimately, you will still find me having a glass of Mon Ami Rascal (a delicious Grenache, Syrah blend) at Earl’s, kicking off a night with tasty Gyozas with hot mustard and soy dipping sauce at Joey’s, or the creole-butter blackened chicken at Cactus – all the while soaking in the scenery of restaurant porn in action.  But for the love of God and for the sake of exercising your pallete, be a little adventurous and go eat something else.  Therein lies my love-hate with Chain Restos!

The Burrito Showdown

As some of you know, I love Burritos.  This love started from a visit to a burrito shack in Southern California many years ago.

Whether it’s the lunch time walk over to Robson Street for Red Burrito, the hunger pangs after Kits Beach requiring a visit to Burrito Bros., or a delicious morning breakfast burrito made from mi casa, all things wrapped in a warm blanket of tortilla is usually magic as far as I’m concerned.

This past weekend I was in Toronto for a wedding and happened to walk by Burrito Boyz on Adelaide Street.  My friends were saying that this place is always super packed and great for the late night post-boozing munchies.  That night, after a bottle-service affair at Brant House, I was in dire need of late-night food.  However, being “slightly tipsy” really doesn’t help matters when you’re not familiar with the city.  I begrudgingly made my way back to home base with a growl in my stomach.

Toronto CityscapeToronto HarbourfrontGargoyles

The next morning/afternoon I decided to go for a walk and explore Toronto for the first time on foot.  I’ve been to this city quite a few times, but have always been chauffeured, subway’d or cabbed.  Camera in tow, I walked around and explored the harbour front and Queen Street to clear the cobwebs from the previous night’s debacle.

It wasn’t long before I started getting hungry and decided to check out the missed opportunity at Burrito Boyz.  I found it and at about 3pm on a Friday, it was already packed with a lineup of 15 people deep.  Chatting with others in line, I was told that this is normal and can get line ups out the door on busy nights.

DSC_0042

When I finally made it to the front, I decided on a large Halibut burrito with everything on it.  I’ve always loved the fish burrito at Burrito Bros in Kits, so this would give me an opportunity to do a taste comparison.  The lady at the counter must have known that I’m a newbie when I said that I wanted it hot with their xxx hot sauce.  She squeezed a drop of their hot sauce on a piece of lettuce and I tried it.  Within 2 seconds, a scorching red heat grew from my lips to my forehead.  She started laughing and said that that is why she loves her job.  Evil, I say!

After telling the first lady about the accoutrement I wanted on my burrito, I stood and waited another, what seemed like, 15 minutes as the burrito is put together and baked.  The burrito was huge, much bigger than the one in Kits.  Standard rice and beans.  Quite a few different sauces – sour cream, ketchup and hot sauce.  Veges were lettuce, green peppers and a few jalapenos.  The fish was lightly breaded and fried.  Overall, I give the taste a 6 out of 10.  It was good proportions for those that are starving but it was too Subway-ish for me – lacking the Tex-Mex or Mexican flavour I crave.  The long wait times didn’t win them any points either.

At Burrito Bros in Kits, it’s still a bit of an undiscovered hole-in-the-wall place which suits me fine.  I will continue to visit and have my Fish or Cabo Chicken Burrito Bomber, served with salsa, tortilla chips and the sweet Mexican lady who works there.

For the other burrito lovers out there, I’d love to hear about your favourite burritos in your city or what you put in your burritos!