Monday, July 15, 2019

Eating well in and around Vancouver

It's been a while since eating well at several restaurants in a row in Vancouver. Something I expect in Vegas, which is why I go there. It was quite a revelation that I could have half a dozen fine meals in as many restaurants all in the city where I live, and its environs, as well as one slightly outside, in Whistler. I first came to Vancouver in 72 and have lived here constantly since 88, but had never visited Whistler. Why would I go there? I don't ski. But Fumiyo's friend Tomoko came to visit us for the first time since 76, and as she'd visited Whistler that distant year, wanted to see how the town had changed since then. I went along. Seems pleasant enough, though somewhat artificial, like a kind of Disney city. Online, I found a Crepe place called Crepe Montagne. We are in the mountains, after all, with people carrying skis everywhere you look.  I had the seafood crepe, which was full of delicious seafood, and made with white and buckwheat flour. Wait a minute. Isn't buckwheat flour the sign of a galette? It sure looked like a galette, as you can see in this picture.

 Rectangular and dark like a galette, rather than round and minus buckwheat like a crepe. Perhaps they don't expect us to not know the difference. It wouldn't make it at the Breizh Cafe in Paris or Tokyo, but it was pretty good for Canada. Pricey, but so is everything else in Whistler. I guess they figure if you can afford to ski, you can afford to spend $30 on a small meal.
My birthday is always a time for feasting with friends. I have been listening to a radio commercial for La Piazza Dario for years. Was their food that good? Certainly an interesting restaurant, inside the Italian Cultural Centre. Full of interesting stuff, but what about the food. Studying the menu, I planned to try their salmon. Always on the lookout for new salmon recipes, but one of the specials was my favourite fish, halibut. I have rarely had really exceptional halibut in a restaurant, but this was one of those times. Very Italian in its ingredients, but like the halibut I had at the great German restaurant Bauhaus some years ago, it never lost in connection with the fish. And that chef has a Michelin star (or did then). Even unstarred, this dish was in that league. Miraculous for a city I do not expect to eat well in.
Some of the friends I usually dine with for my birthday dinner got the day wrong, so instead we went to another, far newer Italian place called Piva for lunch in New Westminster, a Vancouver suburb. Again after the studying the menu online, I went with the gnocchi. Am really glad I did. There was some roasted lemon on the gnocchi which perfectly matched up with the citrussy cocktail I'd ordered.
Gnocchi V   13/20
eggplant, broccolini, tomato, chickpea, cipollini onion, artichoke, roasted lemon

The orange coloured beverage in the top left is called an Orange Kiss: Grapefruit infused aperol, soda, Haywire "Pink Bub," orange blossom mist. One of my friends had the mushroom pizza and raved about it. Will try it next visit.
And speaking of great drinks, my favourite lunch (and occasionally dinner) spot in Van used to be Market by Michelin starred Jean George. I was there on its first night of operation and was greeted warmly by JG. But that was a decade ago. I was particularly fond of its truffle pizza. Still, the menu never changes so I let my curiosity govern my restaurant choices and hadn't dined at Market in years. Still, after the great cocktails I'd had in Vegas in February, particularly the yuzu-based drinks, upon seeing a yuzu mocktail at JG on its online menu, I ventured back there on a trip downtown to see a recent Monet show at the Art Gallery. Alas, the truffle pizza was no longer exquisite. Instead of a mocktail, I asked the bar tender what he could to with yuzu and booze. The bartender surprised me with a drink made from yuzu, pineapple and orange juices, orange citric acid, orange peel and lemon peel, simple syrup and vodka. It was so good I thought I was back in Vegas! That rarely happens in Vancouver.
While Tomoko was in town, she wanted to take us out for dinner someplace close so we went to my favourite Greek place Mythos. I always have the eggplant stuffed with crab. It is wondrous. That never changes. Their sangria too!
My daughter used to take me out for a meal for Father's Day. I continue the tradition in her absence. While searching for places to go for my birthday, I noticed the sesame-crusted tuna at Cardero's. Not long ago, I watched Jose Andres' PBS series about the food of his native Spain. The one dish I wanted to make was sesame-crusted tuna, which appeared to be deep fried, like the Japanese pork dish Tonkatsu. Hot oil is not my friend in the kitchen, so I decided to see what a real chef could do with it. It was a superb lunch, very Vancouveresque. There are a lot of casual restaurants that serve seared tuna in this town. The day after Cardero's, I met my daughter's old boy friend and asked if he recalled having that dish with her. He did. It's not fine dining, but certainly fine lunching. And like Dario's, the restaurant had wonderful vibes. Plus, a great view of the harbour!

Twice recently my wife and I, plus Japanese friends visited a place in what was once Japantown, now one of the sleazier parts of Vancouver, called Dosanko. Menu and vibes reminded me of Sapporo, where we had lived in 76. The restaurant has Tonkatsu on the menu. I've only had good Tonkatsu once in Vancouver, maybe 20 years ago, and that place closed down for health reasons long ago. Maybe the rats came for the Tonkatsu too. The first time at Dosanko, I was surprised at how good the Tonkatsu was. Not as good as the pork I used to eat in Japan, but I haven't lived in Japan in over 30 years. Also had the sake flight, which was just as good. Both good sake and good pork have been unknown to my taste buds since moving to Vancouver. Oh well, there are other things to eat and drink. In Japan, Tonkatsu is usually accompanied by cold beer. Two nights ago, I was back at Dosanko. This time the Tonkatsu transported me to the great Tonkatsu restaurants of Tokyo, where I had pigged out on my last trip there in 07. Just like the yuzu cocktail at Market cancels out my longing for the great Vegas mixologists, this Tonkatsu no longer makes me wish I were back in Tokyo. The sake flight began with Tengumai, the dry one. On its left, one not as dry called Yauemon. Both of these are very good. At the far right, Tatenokawa, a sake as good as I would encounter in the great sake bars of Tokyo. Very fruity and thus a perfect pairing with the Tonkatsu, which demands an apple-based sauce to bring out is full goodness. 
The kind of food and drinks I've had to travel great distances to enjoy are finally here. Hooray!