Tasty Travels: A Foodie Eats Her Way Across Vancouver
They have the mountains; they have the sea. And, if that’s not enough, our West Coast friends have locked down the culinary scene too.
In town for the annual EAT! Vancouver Food + Cooking Festival, I recently spent a week eating my way across the city, sipping craft beers from local brew-masters and award-winning BC wines along the way.
Brunch is big here. On any given weekday, never mind the weekend, expect a line up as long as the list of menu options. At Twisted Fork, a bistro on Granville Street, diners dither over what to order. The Gruyere baked eggs with sourdough toast sounds good. Oh, but so does the spicy pork frittata. And what about the signature Eggs Benny? The choice of fillers for EB is equally daunting — smoked salmon, roasted chicken, sausage, Portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions, bacon or ham?
At Medina Café in the Library District, those who go for their famous Belgium waffles are then buried in a choice of toppings. Milk chocolate lavender … raspberry caramel … peach and bourbon butterscotch? At Exile Bistro in the city’s west end, dietary options abound. I went with my interpretation of their slogan “stay wild at heart” and feasted on eggs with boar bacon and deer sausage while my vegan friends chowed down on French toast with apple butter and maple-birch syrup, and the gluten-free folks gobbled up eggless chickpea omelets.
And then there’s lunch. The food truck scene is in full gear in Vancouver with more than 100 carts featuring all manner of cuisine. Among the most popular are Vij’s Railway Express, Tacofino Cantina and the world-famous JapaDog featuring Japanese-style hotdogs. If you prefer a sit-down affair follow in my footsteps to Cactus Club Café overlooking Coal Harbour. As in many restaurants in Vancouver, the Asian influence shows up in several dishes – there, I devoured a delish Dungeness crab and roasted sablefish swimming in tom yum broth with coconut cream.
Not surprisingly, given the bounty of the Pacific, seafood is the star of many a dinner menu. Visit North Vancouver’s Pier 7 on Thursday at 5 pm for “The Boil”, an after-work feast which sees locals celebrate the weekend early by donning an apron, rolling up their shirt sleeves and digging into an enormous bowl of snow crab, Dungeness crab, prawns, mussels, clams, calamari, potatoes, okra, corn cobs and chorizo sausage. You get tools, but like many diners, I chose to use my hands.
If you’re after Thai fare, head to Maenam in the Kitsilano neighbourhood. As part of a dinner series presented by the festival, there, I made my way through surf — lobster duo of betal leaf wraps and egg net rolls, pork and shrimp Hakka style wonton, black pepper crab — as well as turf – braised pork cheeks, and sweet and sour pork hocks.
The most unique and fancy-pants place I dined at was Secret Location at 1 Water Street in Gastown. By fancy-pants, I mean that literally — the restaurant shares space with a high-end fashion boutique so you can shop (well, in my case, look) before or after dinner. The décor and ambience of the restaurant is as chic as its plate presentation. I nibbled my way through a 10-course tasting which included elderflower fritter with fennel and brie; crispy chicken skin with birchwood sugar and truffle salt, and seared sturgeon liver with milk and rose water.
My most casual meal, and among my most memorable, came by way of a impromptu invite to join a local couple — fellow journalist Kate Zimmerman, whom I’d just met on this trip, and her hubby, Ron, a.k.a. Rockin’ Ronnie Shewchuk of BBQ cookbook fame — for a barbecue on the beach. There, beneath the warm glow of the setting sun, the soft cover of dusk, and finally the full moon (talk about ambient lighting), we devoured a feast. When I tried to express my gratitude and tell them how blown away I was by the experience, Ron replied nonchalantly.
“We just wanted to share a little piece of our paradise.”
Happily, tourists can easily participate in this local eat-on-the-beach tradition. In Vancouver, the Seabus and water taxis can get you out on the water and to the Lonsdale Quay Market on the north shore, as well as the Granville Island Public Market. At both, you can pick up all manner of baked good, produce, deli, and artisanal fare and then head out to the shore for a picnic.
That’s the thing about Vancouver. It has the bounty of the land and sea as well as its beauty. I asked Toronto’s Susur Lee, who was among the line-up of celebrity chefs in town for the festival, for his thoughts on what’s driving the city’s culinary scene.
“Vancouver has many unique ingredients such as spot prawns and sablefish, available locally. But here, the chefs actually experiment with and use them. That’s what makes it such an exciting food destination.”
Executive chef, Rob Feenie, who leads the culinary team of the aforementioned Cactus Club chain, and is Canada’s first Iron Chef America champion, agrees but he points out that here, even a simple a loaf of bread and mussels on the beach is magical. To make his point, he adds, “One time I was cooking sablefish for Sting and I remember him coming up to me on the boat, holding a glass of Chardonnay, and after slowly looking around, saying, “Man, this a pretty special place.” ”
Indeed it is. Every step you take.
CLICK THROUGH FOR RECIPES!
Halibut Cheek Frittata
Contributed by Chef Jonathan Chovancek, Executive Chef, Cafe Medina
Makes 1 small skillet
4 organic eggs
2 Tbsp cream
salt & pepper to taste
50g fresh halibut cheeks
1 small bunch Swiss chard
1 small red onion, cut julienne
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
salad greens as garnish
- In a small frying pan over medium heat, lightly toast the spices until fragrant. Blitz in a blender or coffee mill to a fine powder.
- Combine with the oil, salt, garlic and halibut cheeks and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, wash and cut the Swiss chard into small leaves, slice the stems thin.
- On medium-high heat, sauté the onion and Swiss chard until tender. Remove from the pan and reserve.
- Break the eggs and combine with the cream and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Heat a 6″ cast iron pan until very hot. Sear the halibut cheeks until golden on both sides and cover with the Swiss chard mixture. Pour the egg mixture overtop and place in a preheated 325F oven for 10 minutes or until the egg is set. Top with a few salad greens and serve at room temperature
NEXT: MOREL SALAD
Contributed by Secret Location Executive Chef Jefferson Alavez
150 g ramp greens, cleaned and cut into quarters
300 ml premium olive oil
60 g morels, thoroughly cleaned
1g sprig of thyme
32 g fiddleheads
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp premium olive oil
Complete the dish with crispy shallots or fried mushrooms.
vacuum sealer or mixing bowl
In a lightly salted pot of boiling water, begin by blanching the cleaned morels for five seconds. Strain immediately and place in the fridge to cool. Using a small saucepan, heat the olive oil to fifty degrees Celsius. While the olive oil rises to the desired temperature, place the ramp greens in a blender. Drizzle the warm oil and blend at maximum speed. Strain the greens in cheesecloth, allowing the excess oil to drip for re-use. Heat the water circulator to seventy degrees Celsius and place the egg yolks into a vacuum pack bag, compressed. Slide the bag into the circulator and cook for fifteen minutes. If a water circulator is not available, cook the egg yolks in a mixing bowl bain marie. Using a wooden spoon, stir constantly. Once cooked, salt and oil the yolks to taste. Finish by lightly sautéing the fiddleheads with the strained ramp oil, salt, pepper and thyme. Allow to cool.
Start by lightly coating the dish with a small amount of ramp oil. Toss the morels with a splash of aged balsamic and place on dish. Drizzle the yolk sauce and garnish as desired with crispy shallots or a handful of fried mushrooms.
NEXT: SECRET LOCATION SALMON AND EGGS
Secret Location Salmon and Eggs
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 large free-range eggs
1 artisanal crumpet, English muffin or loaf of bread, sliced
4 slices sustainable smoked salmon, cut to desired thickness
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
6-8 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
salt, to taste
fresh ground pepper, to taste
large sustainable salmon roe, scattered
Begin by making the hollandaise sauce; whisk the egg yolks, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl using the bain marie method until thick and pale. Aerate as much as possible. Reduce the bain marie temperature to moderately low heat and continue to whisk briskly, reaching all over the bottom and insides of the bowl, where eggs tend to overcook.
As the cooking time passes, the eggs will become frothy, increase in volume and then thicken. When streaks of the bottom on the mixing bowl are visible with your whisk and the eggs are thick and smooth, remove from the heat. Slowly incorporate the softened butter in reasonable sized portions, whisking steadily until fully combined. Repeat until all of the butter is absorbed and the sauce has thickened to a heavy, but creamy consistency. Keep warm until served.
Cook eggs in circulator at 64°C for 55 minutes. If a circulator is not available then poach. To poach, bring a deep saucepan of water to boil. Add the vinegar. Crack the eggs into separate ramekins then toast the desired choice of bread. Briskly swirly the saucepan, creating a vortex. Add each egg individually. Boil for two to three minutes based on preference and remove with a slotted spoon. Repeat the process until all eggs are cooked, one at a time.
Lay the sliced smoked salmon on top of the bread, top with an egg or two and finish with a generous drizzle of hollandaise. For garnish, lightly sprinkle salmon roe on top of the coated eggs.
Contributed by Lauren Mote by Lauren Mote, co-proprietor BITTERED SLING, Bar Manager UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar
1.00 oz Lot 40 100% Rye
0.50 oz Cherry Heering Liqueur
0.50 oz Fino Sherry
0.75 oz Lemon Juice
0.75 oz Tannic Apple Syrup
2 dashes Bittered Sling Zingiber Crabapple Bitters
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Double strain over fresh ice in a collins glass, top with ginger beer. Long apple peel garnish.
Sergio Grandolfo, Head Bartender at Secret Location
3 basil leaves
2 cooked rhubarb stick
0.75 0z hibiscus infused gin
0.75 oz aperol
0.5 oz St. Germain
0.25 oz rose syrup
giant basil leaf and apple-celery-lime foam
20 g hibiscus flowers
Prepare the hibiscus-infused gin by adding 20 grams of hibiscus flowers into a 750 ml bottle of gin. Let stand in freezer for twenty-four hours.
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
4 oz rose water or 4 oz fresh rose petals
Mix granulated sugar and water in a medium saucepan until dissolved. Whisk in rose water or fresh petals. On low heat, simmer for twenty minutes. Strain.
Rose syrup alternative:
For a less sweet alternative, opt to replace the syrup with a few drops of rose water
2 soda capsules
1 apple, juiced
1 lime, juiced
1 celery stick, juiced
1 g xanthan gum
Place the juice from one apple, lime and celery stick in a large bowl. Add xanthan gum and blend with an immersion blender for approximately thirty seconds to one minute until a thick foam is produced.
Pour mixture into the soda canister fit with the two capsules and distribute evenly on the drink’s surface.
Apple-celery-lime foam alternative:
If a soda stream in unavailable, blend the ingredients until bubbles appear and spoon onto the drink directly.
Muddle the basil leaves with the rhubarb sticks and infused gin. Add the aperol, St. Germain, and rose syrup. Wet shake, serve, garnish and enjoy.