Vancouver report, September 2023

We were recently in Vancouver for a conference and while some meals were with the conference, we had a chance to get out to a few restaurants. We also had a few days on Vancouver Island, but mainly ate meals at the houses of relatives and friends.

We did a bit of a ramen round-up. First up was Ramen Danbo, which appears to be one of the popular places currently. Not sure it was quite worth 75 minutes in line, but the Fukuoka-style tonkotsu was certainly tasty, the noodles just done, the egg supple, and the pickled greens a nice accent.

Next up was Maruhachi for their chicken broth ramen. The broth was creamy and almost a little sweet. The first batch of noodles was one step too cooked, but the refill was much better.

Lastly, we returned to Kintaro, mainly for sentimental reasons as we have gone since it opened. I prefer their style of noodles (a bit thicker and curly). Admittedly the broth is a bit blander, although the miso is better than the shoyu.

We also had to reacquaint ourselves with Japadog, this time enjoying the Yakisoba: Arabiki pork, yakisoba noodles, pickled ginger, and nori.

I had to book one dinner for a large party (19) and picked Forage for its focus on local (including only BC wines and spirits) and its Family Feast menu that accommodated different dietary preferences. It worked out really well. The atmosphere was casual and not so noisy that we couldn’t have conversations. The food was excellent and at $79/person (not including drinks, tax, and tip), was incredible value for the largesse (we had to pack up a lot to take with us).

For drinks, we ordered two tasting flights of BC wines:

  • 2019 Kettle Valley chardonnay - not chardonnay tasting, kind of fruity
  • 2020 Culmina “Uncus” grüner veltliner - dry and acidic
  • 2022 Corcelettes “Oracles” rosé - ok, quite dry
  • 2020 Chronos rosé - a little sweet and fruity
  • 2019 Fairview cellars “crooked post” pinot noir - bloody and cherry
  • 2018 TIME cabernet franc - nice, with cocoa and anise

For food, they start you each off with a bowl of zesty bison chili (there was a pescatarian alternative that I didn’t taste). The table also shared:

Bison carpaccio, egg yolk dots, alpindon cheese (BC cow’s milk), sourdough crisps, pesto aioli, and pickled rhubarb - beautiful and delicious

Corn bread (really more of a moist cake) with two kinds of local farmhouse cheddar and hot honey drizzled on top - gorgeous and easy to eat up the extra portions.

There was also a lovely salad of sweet heirloom tomatoes, juicy peaches, hazelnuts, red kale, and mixed greens. And a delicious smoked sablefish dip with pickled jalapeño cream, radish oil, and onion, served with homemade (but oily) chips.

Then the main course arrived, a humongous platter of fall-apart bison short ribs; 14-day aged duck breast (crisp skin, moist flesh) with apricot and honey lavender compote,;bannock (a bit heavy) with garlic scape chimichurri and cilantro; richly flavoured bison steak; delicate pan-roasted sablefish; whisky maple carrots; pomme puree; buttery and carmelized Brussels sprouts. We got through barely half of the platter:

We did have an extra stomach available for the dessert platter of haskap berry cake with lemon cream and blueberries; chocolate ganache (more of a brownie we thought) and brandied cherry; pavlova with strawberry and brandied cherry; and sweet cicely leaves:

For our fine dining experience, we chose Botanist for its focus on local and its reputation for interesting cocktails. It did not disappoint.

We started off with two cocktails:

  • What the Flower: gin, electric daisies (buzz button, a Szechuan pepper-like flower), cherry blossom tea, lemon, ginger, cardamom. “Electric daisies dancing in the soft light.” Quite lovely and floral.
  • Council of Trees: blended scotch, fino sherry, cedar, oak moss, birch sap, alder, and cherrywood smoked tea. “Conversations seemingly unspoken in languages.” Really neat - definite tree hints and overall still very drinkable.

We then embarked on the 5-course tasting menu, sharing one wine pairing (all BC per our request). They started us off with Unsworth Charme de L’île - champagne-style with nice yeasty overtone and maybe some apricot. They then brought out a fantastic whole grain sourdough with house made butter.

They then served us another sparkling wine, this time Fitzpatrick cremant traditional method, all pinot blanc - very nice with gentle bubbles. This went with the amuse: truffle (soft) poached quail egg in a nest of potato (deep fried potato strips), over truffle aioli and egg yolk jam, with piave cheese and parmesan broth poured over, decorated with herbs and flowers. Beautiful to the eye and palate:

Our next glass was Capella, Close de Soleil, sauvignon blanc and semillon - fresh, vibrant, with a bit of saline and mushroom. It accompanied an heirloom tomato gazpacho with housemade goat cheese, basil sorbet, compressed tomatoes (especially sweet and amazing), and sourdough tuille - a fresh garden soup:

Our next was a rosé from Vig, primarily zweigelt and 5% schaumberger - bone dry, fresh strawberries, green strawberries, also tastes of forest floor and orange peel. This went with butter-poached dungeness crab, bell pepper soffritto (spicy!), open flame cooked corn, and a crab emulsion on top - lots of contrasts and a rich crab flavour throughout:

Next up was a chardonnay that we didn’t get the details on, but it had pineapple and coconut in the smell, maybe also herbal and mushroom. It paired nicely with grilled kampachi (charred on one side - smoky and burnt yet nearly raw inside) on corn cream, koji fermented lobster mushroom, charred corn, sunchoke, Northern Divine caviar and fresh wasabi.

Switching to red, we had Phantom Creek Estates Petite cuvée no. 4, 2019, cab franc, cab sauv, and merlot - black cherry, blueberry, blackberry, pomegranate syrup, and definitely some V8. This paired with a 21-day dry-aged smoked duck breast (like bacon), with salt, and caramelized onion, pickled and fermented cherries, caramelized walla onion, maple syrup and sour cherry jus - marvellous and meaty.

We had a palate cleanser of candy cap marshmallow - having had many attempts to use mushrooms in sweet dishes, I remain unconvinced. Then on to a late harvest riesling from Tantalus - beautiful fruit and white flower. And the dessert: currant ice cream cake (two layers of blackcurrant ice with a sponge cake between), fresh meringue, currant ice, currant dust, and frozen white currants - refreshing and not too sweet.

Having enjoyed the cocktails so much, we went back twice more to the bar for drinks:

  • Botanists martini [left]: coastal gin blend, house vermouth, seaborne tincture (spruce, lemon verbena, elderflower, salt), oyster leaf (sea bluebell that actually tastes like oyster), vegan caviar. “The reigning sovereign of the cocktail world gets lost in the forest.” Very cool and quite strong.
  • Much Needed Escape [right]: pineapple husk infused rum, coconut, ginger, sencha tea, lemon and lime, clarified milk, kinome leaf. “Using the lens of nostalgia to smooth away the rough edges, creating something much better than the original memory. A tribute to your next vacation.” Like a clarified piña colada, with perfect balance.

On our second visit to the bar, they remembered it was our anniversary and started us off with champagne on the house. We then had:

  • Scarborough Fair [right]: green chartreuse, bitter bianco, fino sherry, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. “Remember me to one who lives there, For she once was a true love of mine.” Herbal and complex.
  • Meadowland tonic [left]: dry vermouth, elderflower, cherry blossom, green tea, wild rose tincture, tonic. “Shimmering light, caught in time between blades of grass.” Exactly.

Hope that helps someone’s future dining.

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