Bin 941: Still Great After All These Years (Vancouver, B.C.)


A spinach salad is kind of like something you feel you should eat in order to get your greens for the day. Not glamorous or exciting, just—healthy. That was our thinking anyway—and maybe a nod toward St. Paddy’s Day when we wanted to quaff beer instead of drinking an artificially green cocktail (even if it was a house special green goblin mojito). That the salad turned out to be one of the best to cross our lips not only delighted but whetted our appetites for the noshes to come.

Even after the passage of so many years, Bin 941 Tapas Parlour continues to impress me. I ate here for the first time over ten years ago with my wife and friends. It’s been around the block a few times, the furniture and funky decoration showing some wear, but its tapas-inspired, eclectic menu of shared plates remains appealing in a city awash in quality restaurants.

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We got to sit in one of two alcoves at the front, cushioned bench seat along one side of the counter-like table that faces the mirror-reflection space on the other side of the entrance. From here, you can’t help but notice humanity walking by outside, a people-watching vantage point.

Back to the salad. The first bite was unexpected. It was tart and savory, umami magic from the kitchen that came up with a mushroom-sherry vinaigrette. The greens were served on a plate that was brushed edge-to-edge with a creamy beet purée that I first mistook for part of the porcelain design (Hey, cool plate!). Even the shimeji mushrooms, doing a good imitation of noodles, were infused with intense flavor. There was also thought given to texture variation, from the creamy avocado to crunchy shaved chioggia beets to crispy fried saganaki cheese cubes, imaginative substitutes for croutons. Outstanding salad (☆☆☆☆), which I’d order again in a heartbeat.

Next came steamed Saltspring Island mussels in a spicy Thai coconut curry broth (☆☆☆). The mussels were monsters, plumped by the plentiful microorganisms in the Strait of Georgia. Normally, I like my mussels on the smaller side, but these were sweet, despite their size. Their mild flavor, I feel, is better served by a less amped up broth, good as it was, emboldened by Thai green curry, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil.

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Pork belly seems to be the obligatory ingredient on menus these days. Bin is no exception. The menu says theirs are braised but they must spend brief time under the broiler; besides the fat being meltingly tender, almost liquid, the meaty portions are charred and substantial. Dee-vine. Plus, they were topped with perfectly seared scallops, which themselves were garnished with a scoop of tobiko (flying fish roe). How about adding chicharron curls on the side for contrast? Oh, man! (☆☆☆☆)

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If Bin 941 sticks around for another ten years, I’d be perfectly happy. This kind of quality never gets old.

Bin 941 Tapas Parlour
941 Davie Street
Vancouver, BC V6Z 1B9
604.683.1246

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What Did You Poutine My Fries?—Fritz European Fry House (Vancouver, B.C.)


My first introduction to poutine was Zog’s Dogs in Whistler Village, up in the mountains of British Columbia. Maybe it was the rarefied air but I began to wonder what Canadians saw in this, their quintessential snack, which according to many Canadians finds its greatest expression in Montreal. Gravy and cheese curds piled on top of fries. Putting wet stuff on fries is certainly not confined to Canucks; after all, we Yanks like to smother ’em with chili. And how about ketchup?

Let’s face it, people like to smother their carbs with sauce. To be fair, the poutine at Zog’s was ordered as a topping for a hot dog, which right away presented the problem of how to pick it up and eat it. Messy. Fork and knife were enlisted. But, the gravy was insipid, uninspired, blah. I wondered if the situation could be brightened with a more flavorful gravy.

Fritz European Fry House purportedly makes the best poutine in Vancouver. My wife and I decided that we should give it another go. We ordered it plain, meaning that we chose not to pile on any of the optional toppings at extra cost (bacon, pulled pork, chicken, smoked meat). The poutine had to be evaluated in its most basic form. We were not disappointed (☆☆☆½). Even if we had to sit on one of three benches flush against the walls (there are no sit-down tables) and scoop the fries, dripping with gravy and long, melted strands of cheese, into our mouths from a shared cup, we realized this was the real deal, a gravy worth every bite, one that likewise would make any biscuit ladled with it an instant classic. Fries? Crispy at first, but got soggy under the gravy.

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Some poutine zealots claim that the cheese curds should squeak as you bite into them, in my mind more of a sensory attribute than taste advantage. We got none of that. The cheese simply melted and became stringy that needed a deft twirling of the fork to keep under control. Mozzarella? It didn’t matter to us if the cheese made any sounds or not.

Would we get poutine again? Yes, we would. Fritz has appeared on many lists as Vancouver’s best late night snack (it’s open until anywhere from 2:30 to 4am, depending on the day of the week). At my age, that’s not going to happen. But, you know, if I were a lot younger …

Fritz European Fry House
718 Davie St
Vancouver BC
604.684.0811