Vancouver’s foodie scene flourishes

Michael Muckian, Contributing writer

Vancouver, B.C., is Canada’s westernmost major metro area and one of the nation’s most popular foodie destinations. Vancouver restaurants combine the best culinary influences the province has to offer, including ethnic diversity, creative innovation and a commitment to environmental sustainability. The dining scene is defined but not constrained by tradition and West Coast style.

If you ever find your way to Vancouver, and you should, consider this a starter list of some of the city’s best restaurants, based on input from area chefs. All prices below are in Canadian currency.

As a coastal city, Vancouver heavily features seafood on its menus. Founded by entrepreneur and environmentalist Harry Kambolis, C Restaurant (2-1600 Howe St., 604-681-1164) taps the seas for much of its cuisine, created under the guidance of executive chef Nicholas Hipperson. He’s cultivated relationships with local farms and specialty food providers.

Dinner at C might start with a North Arm Farm beet salad served with fennel walnut powder, goat cheese and a balsamic gel ($12) or seared scallops served with chili emulsion, veal sweetbreads, asparagus escabeche, veal glace and “piggy puffs” ($17). 

For dinner, try the wild B.C. albacore tuna with braised beef cheeks, wilted romaine, anchovy pine nut puree, fried capers and salsa verde ($29). If you’re especially flush, order C’s Seafood Tower, a three-tier selection of local sustainable seafood ($95).

Kambolis is a founding member of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise sustainable seafood program, and his commitment shows in his menus.

For a menu that brings a sunnier profile, try Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill & Enoteca (1129 & 1133 Hamilton St., 604-688-7466.) Chef Pino Posteraro has created an award-winning approach to Italian food and wine, garnering Vancouver’s Best Chef award. He’s created a wine list that’s 62 pages.

A Lago, Italy, native who once studied to be a cardiologist, Posteraro brings intense academic scrutiny to his restaurant. He also revels in the simplicity of letting his ingredients speak for themselves, generally with outstanding results.

For an appetizer, try the tender, spicy Pacific octopus served with white Tuscan beans and spelt ($18.95) or a green salad with Dungeness crab, avocado, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes ($18.95). Entrée favorites include Haida Gwaii halibut caught off the northern B.C. coast and served with garlic, lemon and capers ($40), and spaghetti alle vongole, made with Baynes Sounds Manila clams in a parsley-white wine-garlic sauce ($30).

You also will find grilled veal porterhouse served in a savory herb sauce ($40) and wild boar from Alberta served two ways ($38).

The multi award-winning West Restaurant (2881 Grandville St., 604-738-8938) offers art-filled contemporary décor and two chef’s tables for diners who want to watch the kitchen in action. Executive chef Quang Dang, who learned his trade as a sous chef at West, draws on his combined Scottish and Vietnamese roots to create a menu that shows originality and sophistication.

For appetizers, try the spring pea soup with crispy Oyama prosciutto and whipped creme fraiche ($15.50), hand-picked biodynamic greens and shaved root vegetables ($14.50) or a sustainable caviar selection (market price). Outstanding entrées include herb butter-roasted Ling cod with chorizo, white beans, romaine hearts and salsa verde ($29.50), and brown butter-roasted venison with arugula bread salad served in a red wine reduction sauce ($44.50).

Delectable desserts by pastry chef Rhonda Viani include oat panacotta with fresh Okanogan plums, plum wine sauce and oat crumbles ($13.50) and a strawberry tart with rhubarb compote, goat cheese mousse and strawberry-fig ice cream ($13).

Chef Michel Jacob brought a touch of his native France to Vancouver when he opened Le Crocodile (100-909 Burrard St., 604-669-4298). The restaurant is an homage of sorts to Jacob’s Restaurant au Crocodile in his hometown of Strasbourg, France, where he began as a young restaurateur. That restaurant won three stars from the Michelin Guide.

Expect the same high quality French cuisine at his Vancouver eatery, where you’ll find superb culinary craftsmanship and fine-dining service under the watchful eye of a smiling green cartoon reptile. Consider starting with a duo of foie-gras, including a foie-gras terrine and foie-gras crème brulee prepared with icewine, gelée and toast ($28). Or try the gravalax of Atlantic char served with heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil and balsamic dressing ($18).

For your entrée, order the slow-braised rabbit legs in a civet sauce with double-smoked bacon, glazed shallots and mushrooms ($30). Or try the grilled tiger prawns and sea scallops served over angel hair pasta with fresh mussel velouté ($29.50). Hearty eaters may want to dig into the one-and-a-half-pound Atlantic lobster —steamed, shelled and served with a sauté of market vegetables and morel mushrooms in a white butter sauce.

Last fall, Vancouver Magazine named the more economical Farmer’s Apprentice Restaurant (1535 W. Sixth St., 604-620-2070) as the city’s best eatery. Chef/owner David Gunawan’s imaginative menu honors sustainable agriculture and organic products from local farmers and artisan producers. All dishes are meant to be shared and arrive in the order that the kitchen prepares them.

The menu is more like an ingredients list than a dish description. Under “vegetables/grains,” you’ll find padron peppers, radishes, tonnato and burnt onion ($12) and spring red wheat berries, mushrooms, fried egg and chard ($14). Under “seafood,” you’ll find smoked octopus, cherries, celery and puffed quinoa ($15) and Dungeness crab, cherry tomatoes, kohlrabi and tomatillo gazpacho ($16).

Meat selections include chicken liver parfait, walnuts, beets and summer greens ($12) and roasted bone marrow, onions, plums and pickled mushrooms ($13).

With its emphasis on ingredients rather than style or technique, Farmer’s Apprentice Restaurant presents a unique culinary aesthetic. It represents one of the many reasons Vancouver is an exceptional restaurant destination.

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