Although Justin Trudeau is surely one of Canada’s yummiest offerings, when it comes to a proper sit down meal, we’ll take the city of Vancouver, BC. Here, Pacific Northwest freshness reigns, chefs showcase Canadian kitchen ingenuity, and incredible seafood and produce is always in season. With Vancouver (and neighboring suburb Richmond’s) sizable Asian population, a representation of many Asian cuisines, especially Japanese, Korean, and Chinese, also distinguishes the food scene here.
Like Singapore, Vancouver is a city where everybody, and we mean everybody, loves to talk about food. It is a place that is plugged into what’s hot and not and is sharply opinionated. Want to start a conversation with a local? Ask them about the 2016 opening of Kissa Tanto, one of the most polarizing restaurants on the scene (alas, I didn’t get to try it and weigh in) or local taco truck turned brick-andmortar establishment, Tacofino, which has since sprung multiple Vancouver locations, trucks, and has even spread to Victoria, BC.
Japanese sibling restaurants Minami and Miku, meanwhile, are local favorites and remain perpetually busy. Locals are also abuzz with anticipation over the Parq Vancouver casino complex, which soft opened in late 2017 and will boast about eight restaurants. During a recent visit, I binged at a wide range of recent restaurants, from the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s utterly sublime Botanist restaurant to killer brunch spots. Here’s the best of them!
Fifteen minutes after I’ve put in a cocktail order, a female mixologist is visibly at work within a glass-enclosed booth, crafting a high-maintenance, elaborate libation. This is the Botanist’s Cocktail Lab, dubbed an “artistic studio with laboratory equipment…to deliver an elaborate drinking experience,” in which a trio of “experiential” cocktails is routinely crafted. As my guest and I witness the fascinating process, we’re presented with an “amusebooze” pre-cocktail cocktail. Finally, our Pretty Bird emerges from the lab. A mandarin orange-colored liquid infused with gin, berries, seeds, and bubbles, presented within a hollow glass bird perched atop a nest, a glass straw sticking out of the butt, it’s cheeky and yummy, and we haven’t even been moved from the bar to dining room yet. Fairmont Pacific Rim’s sublime new restaurant and bar opened to deserved fanfare in April 2017. Filling the hotel’s mezzanine level, with curvy banquettes, creamy tones, floor-to-ceiling windows, it’s an elegant yet unstuffy space, where chef Hector Laguna, formerly of Vancouver’s beloved Hawksworth, rules the open kitchen. His menus exploit the best of Pacific Northwest organic, sustainable bounty. Vegetables are fermented in house, and honey is sourced from Fairmont’s rooftop apiary. Kicking off every meal is a chewy housemade fougasse (beer bread), shaped like leaves, which gluten-philes can also buy to-go. For dinner, a “We’ll Take It From Here” tasting is offered at $85 per person, that features phenomenal flavors and artful plating meant to evoke earthiness. A prawn hidden under a pasta blanket was spectacular, as was a lemon-y, creamy on-menu tagliatelle with morels. It’s a must. Meat and fish alike came with vegetables and herbs that snapped of freshness, and sauces just bursting with essences. A superb terroir-driven wine program and lengthy, innovative cocktail menu incorporate floral and herbal, elements. While a wholly unnecessary lounge singer and loud ladies-night-out table distracted, Botanist easily warrants repeat visits. Fairmont Pacific Rim, 1038 Canada Place. Tel: 604695-5500. www.botanistrestaurant.com
MAK N MING
Vancouver loves its Asian fusion, and 2017 saw the opening of Mak N Ming in the Kitsilano neighborhood that features the culinary creations of husband and wife team Makoto Ono (whose previous outing, Japanese-French PiDGin, helped gentrify and transform Gastown into a buzzy gastronomic destination) and pastry chef Amanda Cheng, formerly of Hong Kong’s hit dessert bar, Riquiqui. Open for dinner all year, with a choice of three (Demi) or six course (Chef’s) tasting menus at $43 and $61, respectively, and weekend brunch during summer months, Mak N Ming has already landed on about every “what’s hot” list and received unanimous positive reviews (and word of mouth) for its Japanese/Asian meets West creations. Make reservations ASAP . Light wood tones and grey marble dominate the cozy, welcoming space, and the seasons drive the menu. Spring saw a lobster two ways presentation of bisque over split pea mash, featuring buttery lobster tail tossed with potatoes, seaweed vinaigrette, and spruce tips. In November, eggplant arrived hidden under a shiso-drizzled al dente pasta blanket. Seriously one of the city’s best new arrivals! 1629 Yew St. Tel: 604-737-1155. www.maknming.com
HERITAGE ASIAN EATERY
At Heritage, weekend brunch takes a tasty Asian-fusion detour. A late 2016 opening in the financial district, chef Felix Zhou’s fastcasual counter service 40-seater is all about clean Pacific Northwest ingredients and Asian flavors. During weekday lunches and dinners, hearty, flavorful bao (e.g. pork belly with kimchi daikon, crispy onion, and hoisin sauce) and rice bowls rule, plus fivespice rubbed (and gluten-free) crispy chicken wings, a well-dressed beef tataki, and several veggie options. Saturday and Sundays, however, see a dedicated brunch menu (Heritage closes at 3 P .M.), and it’s truly special. Got a hangover? Or woke up hangry? The Big One entails a scallion pancake topped with three poached eggs and silky hollandaise sauce, crisp potato rosti fingers, tender pork belly, duck, and a token sprig of greens. It’s decadent, rich, and hits more than just the spot. If that’s overkill, Benny Bowls add poached eggs and hollandaise over pork belly, lamb, duck, or mushroom ragout rice bowls, while the addictive, toothsome green onion pancakes are also available with a duck roll or vegetarian-friendly shitake roll. Fans of the savory rice porridge known as congee are in luck, with smoked oyster, pork belly, or char siu as protein. Craving something sweet? Order golden mantou: chewy, mildly flavored buns, with a side of matcha condensed milk for dipping, is possibly the comfort food you never knew you needed. Good news, mantou is on both menus. 1108 West Pender St. Tel: 778-737-1108. www.eatheritage.ca
BURDOCK & CO
Toronto-raised executive chef Andrea Carlson is all about the veggies. She studied organic farming, built the kitchen for Darwins Café at BC’s Tofino Botanical Garden, and experimented extensively with exotic edible flowers. Organic, local, and sustainable are key words, and 2013 saw her open this truly, madly, deeply Vancouver-y establishment—with an approachable price point, on Main Street in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Everything Carlson uses is sourced from area purveyors, from foragers to coffee roasters, and she makes everything in-house, often visibly in the narrow, woodlined venue’s open kitchen (it occupies about 1/3 of the space, to the rear). Wine director Matthew Sherlock, meanwhile, curates a “naturalist” selection of Canadian and European bottles that truly reflect their respective terroir (Vancouver International Wine Festival bestowed its 2017 Platinum Award for Wine Program Excellence on Burdock & Co.). The dinner menu runs about a dozen items, with a family-style tasting menu for a mere $44 per person. November’s selections included a steamed sea urchin custard with forbidden rice cracker and salmon ikura, fortune cookieshaped sopresini pasta with sweet onion and smoked tomato ragout, and elk bavette with tomatillo and Epazote herb chimichurri, chanterelle mushroom, and potato cream. I decided to give the weekend brunch a whirl, starting with a superb mocktail crafted from Earl Grey Tea and lemon-orange syrup: cloudy like an iced coffee, it was delicious and the tea sprung forward, gripping the tongue. As a fan of eggs Benedict, I gave two iterations a whirl. Over bright red-orange smoked salmon and toasted sourdough, with dill hollandaise and shaved fennel garnish, and a celiac-friendly benny over buttered kale (or bacon) and a gluten-free scone. 2702 Main St. Tel: 604-879-0077. www.burdockandco.com
Vancouver’s first restaurant for the Peruvian-Japanese fusion cuisine known as Nikkei opened in 2015, and it’s excellent and delicious, ultra-fresh, and clean, regardless of the alleged culinary genre. Now, Ancora has a fabulous seawall setting and patio that overlooks Granville Island, harbor ship traffic, and loads of passerby eye candy. This is a wonderful location. Evoking a coastal and nautical atmosphere, the interior is white, enclosed in glass, with a wavy sculpted wall, Italiancrystal chandeliers (inspired by a fishnet, design-wise), white and aqua-toned seating, and dashes of wood and an onyxtopped bar. My guest and I started off the meal at the bar, the back wall of which is lined with an impressive collection of topshelf BC craft spirits, including Odd Society Distillery’s Wallflower Gin and Eastvan Vodka. Being a Nikkei restaurant, a pisco sour seemed a cocktail must (a choice of three types of Pisco are available as base), but being a fan of Peru’s sweet, almost blue Chicha Morada beverage, made with purple corn, cinnamon, and lemon, I ordered a Chicha Libre cocktail that added rum to the equation. Perfect! Raw bar selections proved absolutely delectable, with a selection of sushi, sashimi, and a few Peruvian/Nikkei flavors and specialties like causa (protein served atop chilled mashed potato), Escabeche sauce, toasted giant corn kernels, and, of course, ceviche. Herbs and colorful sprouts com plemented some dishes, including a dreamy and textural lobster risotto with fresh garden peas. This deliciousness transcends cultural identity. 1600 Howe St. Tel: 604-681-1164. www.ancoradining.com
Celebrating its three-year anniversary in March, 2018, the Kitsilano neighborhood’s AnnaLena first brings a smile to guests’ faces thanks to the quirky, hipster pop/street art that occupies its industrialchic interior walls and shelving. Here you’ll find, Daft Punk and basketball player action figures, teddy bear-like Kubricks, KAWS Companions, and a book on Banksy or two. As for AnnaLena’s culinary art, executive chef Michael Robbins, formerly of Vancouver’s Oakwood Canadian Bistro, and a Top Chef contestant, emphasizes contrasts in textures and flavors through modern- Canadian creations. In fact, everything I ate gave my tongue and brain harmonies to appreciate, a virtual concerto for the palate driven by seasonal produce and plating that allowed these contrasts to shine visually with floral garnishes for good measure. Each of the dozen or so menu items is listed by the name of its main ingredient (oyster, chicken, pasta, beets, etc.), and while this conveys a simple preparation, you’re in for anything but. I started with bison, a cured tartare that evoked a flowering pot of herbs in its presentation: a layer of pea green micro-sprouts and fried, dark-green rosemary, and rounds of yellow egg yolk gel camouflaging the meat underneath. Puffed, crisp barley and rice added further texture and downright addictiveness, and I would easily return for a second helping. Buttermilk fried chicken came less camouflaged, small, and perfectly brown, with crispy sections served over a small, thick pond of aoli, with slices of hot-pink baby beets (the chicken appears to be a staple, although its presentation does change up regularly). The tender beef, meanwhile, was elevated through tart, tasty berries, which broke up its richness. Before, during, or after your meal, make sure to enjoy the house’s cocktail program. I recommend The Dutchess, with local Wallflower Gin, vanilla, Calamansi lime, lemon, and peach foam. 1809 W. 1st. Ave. Tel: 778379-4052. www.annalena.ca