Monday, October 29, 2007

Top 20 in Vancouver

A co-worker mentioned Mia Stainsby's recent top 20 restaurants in Vancouver article and it's a lovely piece. She is one of those food writers that are very easy to agree with, which is not really all that common. Anyhow, I thought I would take a stab at a top 20 favourite restaurants in Vancouver. These would be the ones that I'd mention to a fellow foodie who is just about to visit Vancouver for the first time, has a big wad of cash, and really wants to explore the food here. I had great restaurant recommendations for Barcelona when I went, and I'd love to do the same for anyone visiting. Out-of-towner recommendations tend to be a bit on the safer side. You know they only have a limited amount of time, so you tend to recommend sure-fire hits, and leave the riskier ones to the locals. They tend to focus on things that are particular to city as well. In Vancouver's case, I would say that Cantonese dinner, dim sum, sushi, Japanese izakaya and West Coast seafood is where it's at. Also, like any restaurant list, the shelf life is very, very short. It's also just about what makes me tick these days. So for right this minute, here is my Must Eat Vancouver list. I've talked about many of these before, so there are only a few notes.

1. Amarcord

2. Bin 941 or 942 Be prepared for the tight squeeze and the wait for a table though. It's not for everyone.

3. Bishop's

4. C

5. Fleuri, at the Sutton Place. The chocolate buffet is a great idea. They also do a Sunday Jazz Buffet, but I've never been. Dinner is very nice too.

6. Gastropod

7. Guu with Garlic

8. International Chinese Restaurant for Dim Sum, or someplace in Richmond if you staying closer to there. Dim sum and sushi are definitely eating musts for Vancouver, and there are plenty of choices for each.

9. La Crepe Bretagne. I go for a quick breakfast/lunch all the time. Great crepes, and I love their soups and sandwiches too, but it's a great casual stop to have a flaming dessert too, after a hard bout of shopping

10. Le Crocodile. This classic French restaurant has a really large and appealing menu. It's surprisingly cosy for a "fancy restaurant" and they've been doing it so long, they know how to treat you right. By that, I mean that I received what I feel to be perfect service. I just went last week for the first time, andf feel like I've been missing out all these years. It was a perfect birthday dinner spot.

11. Le Gavroche. Please note that I have not been there in years. But I can't imagine it being different.

12. Lumiere. I must admit that I haven't been there in years, since it's heyday, but it's probably still worth the trip. It's really the only restaurant that still does exclusively tasting menus (at its tables, there is the tasting bar too), and I love tasting menus. It's like dinner and the theatre all in one.

12. Mistral. If the visitors are getting too much French food, then how about Memphis Blues (but only if they are not from the American South and can get barbecue anytime they want).

13. Nu's patio (if it's summer) - I thought this place had lost its spark, but had a really nice meal there this summer.

14. Parkside

15. Phnom Penh is a great, very "accessible" stop if you need a lunch in Chinatown after wandering around that area.

16. Senhor Rooster is a homey favourite of mine. Warmth and good value. It's not fine dining like much of the rest of the list, so it's not about expecting perfection or getting a mind-blowing culinary experience. It's more that I am confidant that people will have a good time and get well fed when they go there, and that's what it's all about for me.

17. Sweet Revenge (desserts only, but an adorable stop, which gives you a bit of that Main St. neighbourhood feel).

18. Tojo's (for the more budget minded, try Sakae in the downtown core instead)

19. Yuji's Japanese Tapas

20. Here's a tie for an afternoon tea pick: The Fish House if you're in Stanley Park or Secret Garden Tea Company if you can get up to Kerrisdale.

There are a handful of restaurants that I want to put on for some reasons, but just don't deliver the consistancy that makes it an all out recommendation without hesitation.

For example, I wish I could put Aurora Bistro on the list, as their whole concept is about showcasing local products, and they have a passion for BC wine, and I've been several times and had some really nice things to eat there. But I wouldn't want an out-of-towner to get my recommendation and get a cold server, and possibly a mediocre dish. Their experience on the whole will most likely be positive, but there is that bit of uncertainty. I think C can represent the local bounty with more assurance.

Raincity Grill is another great restaurant to represent that West Coast cuisine. It's good. Certainly one of the best in it's vicinity. It sits in a nice little spot in English Bay, which is a pretty convenient stop if you're site-seeing. I think sometimes that I'd rather go to Banana Leaf across the street. I find that more interesting, I guess. Staff are exceptionally warm though at Raincity, and I've only had great service there. And the tomato menu during tomato season is very special too.

West is conspicuously missing from the list, and that is somewhat a personal preference as well. I don't feel the staff are warm enough, which makes the food less fun to eat. Who wants to pay hundreds of dollars to interact with someone cold for a couple of hours? The last time I went, the warmest person that approached our table was one of the kitchen staff who ran a dish out to us. She was great. I wanted her to be my server. In the case of West though, I have a great deal of trust in their ability to deliver outstandingly well-prepared food though. And if wine is your main focus, perhaps it will appeal to you more. But it's not a place I get excited about or has a menu that particularly excites me. It'll be interesting to see how the new Hawksworth restaurant turns out when it opens in the renovated Georgia Hotel, and equally interesting to see how West changes with the head chef's move.

There are restaurants that I just can't put on because I don't know them well enough, or haven't been reacquainted with them lately, too. Then again, Le Crocodile won me over entirely right away, and I put it on the list, despite having only been there once. It was a recent visit though, so I am quite confident in them. Rare would be on my list, but I just haven't had a chance to go back. It was really spectacular the one time, but the Chef de Cuisine left, and the owners have opened up a new restaurant Metro (not my cup of tea when I visited in their first few months), so I'd really like to visit again to be sure.

Elixir might have made it onto my list, but I got horribly sick after my one visit, and felt that the manager dropped the ball in my communications with him afterwards. I might go to that restaurant again some day though as the actual meal was quite good.

Horizons, The Pear Tree, and The Cannery are all beautiful restaurants but are just a bit far, and I haven't had a chance to go recently. Diva at the Met was one of my favourites before, but have not had a recent visit. I enjoyed Vij's a couple of times long ago, but I just don't line up for restaurants, so it's not on my list.

There are several restaurants that I suspect might make my list, but I have not had a chance to try. Here's a few that I'd like to hit soon: Restaurant Connor Butler, Fuel, So.cial, Boneta, La Regalade (have had the chef prepare a meal in front of me as a cooking class, and that was fabulous), Blue Water, Cioppino's, Bacchus, Senova, and The Beachhouse at Dundarave Pier. Having recently fallen in love with Spanish cuisine on my trip to Europe, I am most excited about trying the tucked away Senova on 57th Ave.

Other fun foodie stops for the out-of-towner:

Capstone Teahouse for bubble tea (or someplace similar, because bubble tea is just fun, especially the first time).

Granville Island for picnic-y type grazing (typical trip - croissant from La Baguette et l'echalote and bread to go with charcuterie, coffee from JJ Bean, charcuterie, pates, and cheeses from Oyama Sausage Co., fresh fruit from various stands, maybe sake from the new sake store/brewery, maybe a tasting tour of the Granville Island brewery, and a stop at Barbara Jo's Books for Cooks)

Korean restaurants like Ap Kung Jung. I didn't put it in my top 20 because frankly, I don't know Korean restaurants well enough. Does anyone have a pick that is definitely going to impress, and not have service issues? They are all very similar to me, and can have good and bad days. But it's a great choice for a meal if someone is unfamiliar with the cuisine. And then there's always Korean barbecue at a place with a grill embedded right into the table, which is great fun and is tasty.

Lift for a drink at the bar at night.

Richmond Night Market (if it's a summertime weekend)

Salt for some nice wine and snacks and Shebeen Whisky House/Irish Heather for some whisky and atmosphere (new location across the street coming soon, while the original goes through seismic upgrades).

Sun Sui Wah or another Cantanese restaurant for dinner. Sun Sui Wah does belongs in the top 20, and is a great restaurant and my hesitation to include it comes from a desire to not overhype the one restaurant. There are just too many good Chinese restaurants and this one seems to garner all the English-speaking media attention. They do a particularly nice job with the service though, and the room is very attractive with its Bing Thom architectural details. Golden Ocean in Kerrisdale has great food too. And there are plenty of Chinese restaurants in Richmond too. Victoria Restaurant in Royal Centre connected to the Burrard skytrain station is great as well, or at least seemed so when I was there for a wedding reception. It's a handy location too. Shanghai dumplings can be found in many places, but a very accessible choice is the modern Dinesty (yes, that's how they like to spell it) on No. 3 Road in Richmond. And if you're in Richmond, you might as well find a Chinese noodle house and have some Won Ton and chunks of roast pork with that wonderful crunchy skin, barbecued duck, and barbecued pork (cha sui).


Dumpling_Girl said...

Like I said, that list was for just that moment. I already want to ammend my list! I went to Senova tonight on my way home from work, and I think it belongs in the Top 20. Totally charming restaurant with Portugese and Spanish influenced food.

SaabKen said...

Shocking news: Rob Feenie is no longer part of Lumiere's and Feenie's:

Archivarian (An Archival & Library Mistress) said...

I'm a big fan of Blue Water. I always stop by after a GM Place concert for a drink (and dessert if it's still early enough) - they took me in when Pacific Goldfish Kitchen wouldn't and this was a Friday night at 11:30pm. The *nice* PGK hostess told me the kitchen and bar were closed; extremely disappointing when it was still full of people - so no one was drinking?

Another time, I was also stuck in traffic couldn't find a parking spot with a Lions & Canucks game going on last year - didn't arrive until an hour after my party had started their drinks & appies. They took my drink & dinner order and I had two different people stop by to tell me that they would have my order shortly and sorry for keeping me waiting - and here I was the late one.

I'm also glad you put International (love going their for dim sum with my folks) and Capstone (fun chocolate fondue with friends).

Dumpling_Girl said...

Hi SaabKen,
The news isn't all that shocking to me, but it is sad. I am staying out of the gossiping on this one. It doesn't really interest me. Rumblings about it on another website have been rather nasty for weeks, and I actually feel quite a bit of sympathy for Feenie here. I imagine Lumiere was his baby, and something to be really proud of. I just can't imagine the Sidoos running it in light of this news. A lot of people like to bash Rob Feenie, but I think that's just a matter of him being a bit overexposed publicity wise these last few years. I ate at Lumiere years ago, and I think he deserves all the tremendous success he has had (though I must admit it is difficult for me to watch him speak).

SaabKen said...

I agree, there must have been some bad politics behind the whole Feenie's/Lumiere scene. Whatever the truth is, the fact is that our two world-renowned restaurants will never be the same again for better or worse.

Let's hope their names change, and that our hometown boy Rob finds the support, courage and motivation to turn this into new opportunities for him.

Dumpling_Girl said...

One of these days, I will check out Blue Water. Thanks for the note about them, archivarian!

tintin said...

I'm a big fan of Guu with Garlic (I've only been to the one on Robson; it's such a cute and cozy little place with an authentic Japanese atmosphere. It's always hustling and bustling; my friends nad I love dropping by for some yummy tapas.
La Crepe Bretagne is without a doubt my FAVOURITE place for crepes in Vancouver. I actually came across this place randomly (i was just shopping on Robson that day) It reminds me of the crepes I had in Montreal and just Montreal in general! The lady there is super nice and talks to me in French (some much needed practice). Love to see that you enjoy that place as well!!
and i also really like Salade de Fruits and Cassis for relatively inexpensive French cuisine : )