May 31, 2010 § 1 Comment
My husband and I were in Vancouver for the past five days. The only time I’d been to Vancouver was when we stopped to eat dim sum at Sun Sui Wah on our way back from a summer vacation in Whistler. Although it rained nearly the entire time we were there, I loved the city — the view of dark, brooding mountains emerging from shafts of mist everywhere you turn; rhododendron shrubs laden with violet, white and fuschia blooms in every garden; and excellent food.
Chinese, Chinese, Chinese
Vancouver’s population is nearly 20% ethnically Chinese, due in large part to China’s 1997 repatriation of Hong Kong, which led to a mass influx of Chinese to the area. Combine that demographic landscape with Vancouver’s proximity to fresh seafood and its focus on great eats, and you get, according to some, the best Chinese food in the world. I have to say, I did enjoy gorging myself on the stuff while we had the chance!
What I’d recommend:
- Lin Chinese Cuisine and Tea House: Excellent soup dumplings (xiao long bao) and noodle soup. The soup dumpling wrappers are thin and delicate, and the pork filling is rich and savory and makes you feel like you’re in a warm, safe cocoon. You can watch them make the dumplings deftly behind a windowed counter. Get the salted veggie and meat noodle soup — it’s small bits of ground pork and pickled mustard greens in a velvety broth with tender, hand-made noodles. Pass on the chive cake; it’s a pan-fried, calzone-like pouch filled with chopped chives and scrambled eggs that was too heavy and not that flavorful.
- Shanghai River: Excellent scallion pancakes and pork ribs in black vinegar with pine nuts. The pancakes are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, not greasy, and just the right amount of salty onion flavor — best we’ve ever had, including in NYC. The pork ribs are riblets coated in a sticky sour/sweet sauce, and best for people who enjoy eating with their hands and cleaning their bones (which is what I love to do). Huge, high-ceilinged room serving dim sum and entrees on the ground floor of an office building in Richmond, an apparently all-Chinese suburb near the airport. You can also watch them make dumplings, pancakes and other goodies at a glassed-in counter.
- La Patisserie: Excellent pineapple custard and red bean paste buns. Sounds French, but it is a Chinese bakery that sells some Chinese goods as well as European-style pastries with a Chinese flair. Two locations, one in Vancouver and one in Richmond; we visited the one in Richmond after dim sum at Shanghai River.
- Kirin: Excellent dim sum with a focus on seafood. You order by menu, not by cart. Everything we sampled was delicious: steamed prawn and peatip dumpling (huge, but the wrappers were thin and translucent and the greens had a nice, garlicky kick); steamed crab, prawn and scallop dumpling topped with fish roe (delicate and lovely); rice in lotus leaf (one of the best I’ve had because of its fresh ingredients — sliced pork belly, salted egg yolk, mushrooms, shredded chicken — and relatively small amount of rice; great with the dried scallop-infused chili sauce on the table); shark fin and pork dumpling in consomme (served in a white ceramic pot for one with a tangy red vinegar; the dumpling was very soft but complemented nicely by the chewy-crunchy shark fin); and steamed barbecue pork bun (probably our least favorite as it was on the sweet side, but still good). Very slick, clean, huge place with live lobster, crab and prawn tanks and an almost Chinese-modern decor; across the street from Shanghai River.
- Vij’s: Excellent contemporary Indian. I kicked off with the mangalore cocktail (prosecco and spices), which was delicious. Appetizer was organic curried deviled eggs with bell pepper fritters slathered in a fenugreek-scented, house-made yogurt and baked jackfruit. We didn’t like the eggs — the filling was too chunky (texture- and spice-wise) for our taste, but the pepper fritters and the yogurt were to die for! Entrees were Rajasthani style goat curry (if you like goat or want to try it, get this — we loved it, and the interesting inclusion of blueberries gave it a nice sweet/tart balance) and BC spot prawns and halibut with black chickpeas in coconut-lemon curry (we tried it because spot prawns were in season — good but not excellent). Vikram, the owner with stunning green eyes, constantly walks around the restaurant, checking in with diners and genuinely seeking feedback on the dishes. You can tell he’s passionate about what he’s doing. They don’t take reservations, so either arrive at 5 pm (30 minutes before they open, at which point there will already be a line) for first seating or expect to wait an hour. Luckily, they have a cozy bar/lounge in the back with free finger food that was excellent — I liked the mung beans and chutney on a crisp best.
- Refuel: Excellent salad. I know, who wants to go somewhere for salad? This place was suggested by multiple New York Times writers. It was originally Fuel, which busted along with the economy and was re-opened as more wallet-friendly Refuel in the upscale Kitsilano neighborhood. The New York Times consistently recommended the fried chicken and pork cheek terrine. While both were good, I found each lacking: the fried chicken could have been chicken-ier and juicier (I am spoiled by happily free ranging chickens raised by small farmers in the California Bay Area — see my Scottsdale & Phoenix, AZ post on Jidori chickens), and the pork terrine slab was too thick as to err on the side of overwhelming (even for a pig-aholic like me). But the Glorious Organics salad, with greens sourced from the Glorious Organics farming co-op, was amazing. There was a tangle of beautiful, unusual greens (including oxeye daisy and bronze fennel) spread out on a long, rectangular platter, topped with roasted golden beet slices, all barely glistening in a lime-wildflower honey vinaigrette. I want to re-create that salad out of my garden!
- Alibi Room: Excellent beer menu and “modern tavern” menu in Gastown. This is the place to go if you want to sample beers made locally — or anywhere. They offer beer flights so you can taste a variety, which one of our friends tried (best was a juniper-flavored beer). The guys got burgers, which were incredible. I had a raspberry ale and, since I had gorged myself on a lot of Chinese food and couldn’t quite stomach a large amount of animal protein, I went with a mezze plate appetizer with perfect flatbread (salty, griddled deliciousness) and cumin hummus, lemon-parsley feta, cukes and olives. Our other friend, a vegetarian, had the falafel wrap, which she said was excellent.
Random Fun Things to Do
- Rent a bike and ride it along the Stanley Park Seawall: Do it. It’s fun. You can feel the joy of childhood thrumming through your legs and the wind in your hair as you bike free along the water.
- Reconnect with yourself and get a workout at YYoga: Beautiful, mod space with a great flow class, but boy, are they strict about being on time. Don’t be late. Seriously. They will turn you away. I had to beg to get in when I was 5 minutes late. Multiple YYoga locations.
- Granville Island: To be honest, if you only have a few days, I’d pass — it was more Fisherman’s Wharf than Ferry Building. Though they do have multiple fruit stands with pyramids of gorgeous tropical fruit, including mangosteen, which, of course, we bought. Mmm.
Lin Chinese Cuisine and Tea House, 1537 W. Broadway, Vancouver. 604.733.9696
Shanghai River, 7831 Westminster Highway (at No. 3 Road), Richmond. 604.233.8885
La Patisserie, #2- 6360 No.3 Road, Richmond. 604.270.3092. Also 8278 Granville Street, Vancouver. 604.269.0002
Kirin, 200 Three West Centre, 7900 Westminster Highway (at No. 3 Road), Richmond. 604.303.8833. Multiple locations
Vij’s, 1480 West 11th Avenue (at Granville), Vancouver. 604.736.6664
Refuel Neighbourhood Restaurant & Bar, 1944 W. Fourth Ave. (at Cypress St.), Vancouver. 604.288.7905
Alibi Room, 157 Alexander Street, Vancouver. 604.623.3383