The Seawall is the best walk in all of Vancouver, B.C. Siwash Rock is only one of many splendiferous views along the way.
The Seawall is the best walk in all of Vancouver, B.C. Siwash Rock is only one of many splendiferous views along the way.
In a city known for its international cuisine, including my personal favorites of Japanese izakaya and ramen and Chinese restaurants in nearby Richmond worthy of Hong Kong, I’ve come across really tasty examples of not local (i.e., Northwest) food but grub transplanted from Montreal.
No doubt you’ve heard of poutine, the Québécois fast-food combination of French fries, cheese curds and gravy. At first, the thought of it wasn’t all that appealing to me, but then I realized that Yanks drench their fries in ketchup, chili or even melted cheese, so the concept of smothering fried potatoes with sauce is not just a Canadian thing. Over a year ago, I had very good poutine at Fritz European Fry House in Vancouver, judged mainly on its gravy, a deeply satisfying, savory bombshell. There were a few hiccups. Starting off very crispy, the fries softened under all that hot gravy and the cheese curds melted and became stringy.
While in town again, I was looking at a Vancity internet map last month when I noticed another poutinerie (that also sells hot dogs) only blocks from our hotel. Mean Poutine is only a counter operation on Nelson near Granville. There is nowhere to sit though you can stand and eat at the counter. My wife got a single order for takeaway and brought it back to our room. I didn’t see any visible gravy, though the fries were clearly wet. I thought it odd that it seemed to have disappeared, more like dissolved into the potatoes. The fries were cut thinner than Fritz’s but they were superior, having a double-fried texture and a very thin batter that gave them an appealing crunchiness. The curds also kept their shape. An interesting twist, one which I liked, was the addition of sliced green onions.
Many Canadians eat these snacks late at night, which explains why Fritz is open until 2am-4am, depending on day of the week, and Mean Poutine until 4am. This is not a good idea if you’re trying to keep the poundage off.
Great bagels on the West Coast are hard to find. The ones here tend to be softer than their East Coast counterparts, verging on being bread-like. I’ve heard East Coasters complain about western bagels. In college in L.A., I had a Jewish buddy from New Jersey who more than once made the same claim. And so did Joel Siegel when he moved from Montreal to Vancouver. He decided to open Siegel’s Bagels in 1990. He incorporated his vast experience that he accumulated while working at a Montreal bagel shop. The bagels would be boiled in a kettle, baked on shivas in a 25-ton wood-burning stone-hearth oven. At the original Kitsilano location and the newer one on Granville Island, you can watch them being made.
Siegel’s bagels are seriously good. The bagel can by itself be an object of meditation: what the perfect one should be like. They have the requisite crispy exterior, a chewy inside and modest size that make almost all bagels I’ve had before pale in comparison. Lack of added salt also makes Montreal bagels taste sweet. For me, they find their greatest expression in the form of Siegel’s signature Montreal smoked meat sandwich on a sesame bagel. Siegel’s has not only transplanted the quintessential Montreal-style bagel to Vancouver, it also imports (weekly) smoked brisket from Montreal, which is then thinly sliced and heated in-house in portion steamers. All that’s needed is a slathering of plain yellow mustard to complete a whole that is greater than its parts, at once chewy, crispy, nutty, salty, sweet, tart and savory in perfect balance. The whole thing yields to nearly effortless bites, never a jaw-tiring or sandwich-deforming exercise that denser bread would produce.
Vancouver is lucky to have a taste of Montreal in its own backyard, and so am I with only a three-hour drive away.
Fritz European Fry House
718 Davie St
718 Nelson St
Siegel’s Bagels (Granville Island Public Market)
1689 Johnston St #22
Siegel’s Bagels (Kitsilano)
1883 Cornwall Avenue
The venerable La Bodega has been serving Spanish cuisine since 1971. In a city that doesn’t have many Spanish restaurants, the quality of the food remains good, though nothing we had could be described as extraordinary. The place is dark, as seems to be the case in most Spanish restaurants we’ve ever been. A good way to start the meal is a refreshing sangria; La Bodega’s is nice. We confined ourselves to a salad and tapas: prawns in sizzling garlic sauce, chorizo casera, and pisto Anadaluz.
La Bodega Restaurante & Tapa Bar
1277 Howe Street
Vancouver, BC V6Z 1R3, Canada
Several years ago, we stumbled on a Thai restaurant on our way to another restaurant. The thought of Thai food sounded good right then, so we changed our plans and decided to eat there. We were impressed with the quality of the dishes we ordered, especially their gai hor bay toey (marinated chicken thighs wrapped in pandanus leaves).
This time, we returned to Sala Thai (across the street from the Burrard Japadog) as a destination. This is a very fine Thai restaurant. We will order the gai hor bai toey (☆☆☆☆) every time we eat here. The yum nuea (☆☆☆) was also very good, though the beef was somewhat chewy, mingled with a tart lime dressing that had just the right amount of sweetness and burned from a liberal dose of cayenne. A savory addition of shredded pork flakes topped the pineapple fried rice with chicken (☆☆☆), another very good dish. The least successful entree was the stir-fried eggplant with garlic, Thai basil and bell peppers (pad ma-kuer) (☆☆), the flavors not fully developed.
102-888 Burrard St.
Vancouver, BC V6Z 1X9
There’s something incongruous about the term Japanese hot dog. I mean, do they actually eat this stuff over there? I know they must if some of the winners of the Coney Island Hot Dog contest have been Japanese. Okay, that’s one thing. But to have the Japanese open up a hot dog stand? When first introduced in Vancouver, Japadog became an instant success. Their formula was to add distinctively Japanese condiments in place of the venerable ketchup, mustard and sweet pickles.
After many years, we decided to give the place a try, non-PC name notwithstanding. There are now several locations throughout the city. We had our Japadogs by the Waterfront terminal.
We ordered the beef terimayo and oroshi dogs. The oroshi was better. Who would’ve thought that grated daikon oroshi) would pair well with a dog? It really is a happy marriage. What ties it together is the “special” soy sauce poured on the radish with a sprinkling of green onions.
Helped by a squirt of wasabi mayo, the beef terimayo was good too, which otherwise would have been one-dimensional with just a teriyaki flavor.
One problem is that the sausages are kept in hot water which tends to hydrate them and dilute their flavor, giving them a boiled taste. I’ve always preferred pure grilled weiners. However, the server does finish off the sausage on the grill. We noticed that each Japadog location has a unique dog not sold at any others.
Granville St and Cordova St
In front of the Waterfront Skytrain Station
For lunch in the Granville Market area, we wanted to eat at Go Fish, but (being Monday) it was closed. A highly regarded Afghan restaurant, just on the outskirts of Granville Island, was also closed. A sushi shop next door was too humid inside, so we went up the street and came across Sawa Tea Lounge, a Japanese restaurant that specializes in tea and donburi. We were meant to find this place. I don’t normally choose donburi at a Japanese restaurant, but today I did.
My soboro chicken donburi was absolutely wonderful. The rice, perfectly cooked, was infused with a superb dashi sauce that dribbled down from the minced chicken and egg topping. The scrambled egg was perfectly cooked, not dry but moist and full of flavor. I just sat there and savored every bite. I haven’t had such a donburi in a very long time.
My wife had the cold soba noodle special. The noodles were made with green tea and the salad on top was dressed with an excellent ginger vinaigrette.
While we still want to have a meal at Go Fish, it would not bother us in the least to come back here.
Sawa Tea Lounge (** NOW CLOSED **)
1538 W 2nd Ave
Vancouver, BC V6J1H2
Even before it opens, Stepho’s Souvlaki Greek Taverna has a long line of customers waiting to get in. No reservations are taken, so you never know when you’ll get seated. The reason for the popularity is the Greek food, lots of it for the money. In particular, the roast lamb is what brings many customers back for more. It’s debatable if their other dishes command such praise. If you love lamb, then you can do no better than to have it here. It is fall-off-the-bone tender and flavorful.
Stepho’s Souvlaki Greek Taverna
1124 Davie St
Vancouver, BC V6E 1N1
Neighbourhood: West End
On our way over to Gyoza King to have their shio salmon chazuke, we noticed Sala Thai on Burrard. On the spur of the moment, we made a choice to go there instead. What good fortune, because we came away from the restaurant having tasted one of the best things we’ve ever had at a Thai restaurant.
From their specialty list, we ordered chicken in pandanus leaves (gai hor bai toey). Boned chicken thighs are marinated in a secret garlic sauce, shaped into little drumettes, then tightly wrapped in pandanus leaves and deep-fried. They’re served on a bed of very finely shredded cabbage and come with a sweet dipping sauce. How can I sing their praises? The leaves protect the chicken from getting too oily; they essentially steam in their own juices and marinade. Not only was the presentation marvelous, but the first bite into these tender morsels, exploding with flavor, was enough to forswear my allegiance to any other Thai restaurant.
Their pad see iew was also excellent. Based on these two dishes alone, we are sure to return. Also intriguing on the menu was a steamed mussel dish with basil and a house chili sauce, all served in a clay pot. The ambiance was also very nice, very Thai.
102-888 Burrard St. Vancouver, BC
One of the best nature walks you can take in Vancouver is along the Seawall, a 22-km path that passes by stunning views of the ocean and the city, built to protect the coastline from erosion caused by the many marine vessels that ply the First Narrows. Though its S-shaped path stretches from Kitsilano Beach to Coal Harbour, we hiked only the portion around Stanley Park.
The weather today was pleasant for a good walk, one that passed several points-of-interest. One of them is an impressive stone outcropping called Siwash Rock, actually a volcanic plug of basalt that eroded over time to become the only sea stack in the Vancouver area. Siwash is over 50ft tall and attracts much attention by passersby.
Another dramatic sight is a view of Lions Gate Bridge from underneath.
Public art also makes appearances along the walk. Reminiscent of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid statue, the bronze Girl in a Wetsuit sits offshore on a giant granite boulder.
Brockton Point Lighthouse is one of the two lighthouses serving Vancouver, the other being on Prospect Point on the other side of the Narrows. Though the tower was built in 1890, the current lighthouse was completed in 1914, whose upper terrace is a good place to look out toward the city.
Stanley Park is one of the greatest urban parks in North America. Its forest surrounded by water on three sides reminded me what a beautiful place the Pacific Northwest is. One section of the park has a display of impressive totem poles, each of which tells a story important to the tribes that inhabit the B.C. and lower Alaskan coasts.
Along the southeastern portion of the seawall are dazzling views of Vancouver’s skyline. Surrounded by water and mountains, Vancouver is one of the most spectacularly situated cities in the world.
Since its opening in 1998, Bin 941 has been wowing its customers and critics alike with its approach to tapas-style dining, Pacific Northwest-style. The emphasis is on sharing small plates, a formula that worked so well that other Vancouver restaurants started to adopt the trend. Our good friends took us here several years ago because they considered it one of the best restaurants in the city. The success of Bin 941 has led Chef Gord Martin to open Bin 942 and Go Fish!, both of them equally highly regarded.
So it goes without saying that we needed to return, especially since we were lodging at the WorldMark only blocks away. The menu changes frequently, so the chances of repeating what you had eaten before is not likely. Four of us settled on steamed mussels and chorizo in a mesquite smoked tomato broth; duck breast and fingerling potato on port cranberry jus; spinach salad with fried calamari and white nectarine with toasted coconut dressing; greens with goat cheese and hazelnuts dressed with apple cider clover honey vinaigrette; pommes frites; and portobello mushroom with asparagus gazpacho, goat cheese and aged balsamic vinegar. All were wonderful, but I will most fondly remember the mussels and the bread-dipping-worthy broth.
Bin 941 Tapas Parlour
941 Davie St. Vancouver, BC