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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Wondering trio report, Doctor!

We had a return visit to Vancouver over the weekend. We tried mainly new places, but also had a couple of repeats.

To continue our ramen survey, we tried Menya Itto. There was no line-up, although it filled in a fair bit while we ate.

We tried the tsukemen, the chashu version (with pork belly, pork shoulder, and chicken). The chewy, house-made thick noodles were wonderful and we dipped them in a delicious broth that included chicken balls and chopped scallions. A kettle included refills of dashi broth for our dipping bowl.

A special was the lobster ramen. This was equal to or even better than the tsukemen. It featured a rich lobster broth further deepened with spicy miso, plus a slice of lemon, three nori, menma, scallions, onions, corn, the same shoulder chashu, half ajitsuke tamago, house-made medium thin noodles, and a perfectly cooked lobster tail.

We also had a side of smoked duck breast, which was essentially an amazing duck-flavoured ham.

Getting a bit full, we decided to just have the yuzu panna cotta - plain panna cotta but doused in a sort of yuzu marmalade that was lovely, with two half grapes and raspberries beside.

We booked dinner at Burdock & Co., which had been on our shortlist for the September trip above. Overall we were very impressed. The tasting menu was based around tree resins, which itself was interesting. We feel they could have been even bolder with these flavours, but the food overall was excellent. The service was friendly and informed. We split a premium wine pairing, which was wide ranging and included some fantastic picks.

We added two extra courses to precede the tasting menu. First up was their Arctic sourdough bread, served with aged sake kasu butter. The 10-year-old starter for the bread had been made with yeast from Arctic huckleberries. Three grilled wedges, slightly blackened, had great texture and were quite sour.

We also couldn’t resist the buttermilk fried chicken, with remoulade, and citrus salt - crisp and dry, popcorn-style, perfectly tender, with a flavourful dip.

The tasting menu started with an amuse of poppyseed and fennel profiteroles, filled with duck liver mousse, birch-syrup-preserved elderberry, and mustard greens. A very decadent canapé.

Our first pairing was a glass of Fidèle Champagne, Vouette & Sorbée, Brut Nature, from l’Aube - ripe apricots and loads of toast, one of the wine highlights. It accompanied morel mushrooms stuffed with fermented pine nuts, braised burdock, and tofu purée, with pine purée underneath too. The morels were coated in resinous pine with some maple syrup, and topped with crispy reindeer lichen, pickled shallots and pine pollen - the pine could have been a bit more present, but the whole dish was still a standout.

We next had a glass of 2021 Louro do Bolo, Godello, Rafael Palacios, Galicia, DO - mainly mineral and oak, pleasant enough. It accompanied a dish featuring a leek terrine (remarkable), bay leaf butter confit scallop, fir sabayon and cured egg yolk, scallop & fir tip vinaigrette and fresh chives, shoestring potatoes, to which we added Acadian Gold caviar - delicate and light, with hints of forest.

Our third glass was a 2022 Béchar Fiano di Avellino DOCG, from Campania - very nice, more floral. It complemented a spring nettle & ricotta raviolo, cottonwood cream, spring onion foam, cottonwood oil drops, pickled spring onion, and a few cottonwood buds on top - lots of herbal flavours with unfamiliar accents, and richness from a butter-based sauce.

The next wine was our favourite of the evening: a 2023 Dr. Edge Ambrosia - orange wine, Tamar Valley, Tasmania, mainly Schoenburger and a little Pinot Gris - 5 days whole berry on skin, unfiltered, wild ferment - super floral, and honey, with a tang and a little mushroomy edge. It paired well with the fermented spruce tip syrup BBQ glazed black cod, pickled porphyria seaweed on top, alder shiitake, XO fried radish cake, sake butter sauce, nori oil, with a side pineapple bun filled with BBQ sablefish and nori craquelin and garnish of butter leaf purple sorrel. While the components were impressive and the fish delicate, I found the dish a bit too rich from another butter-based sauce. Black cod is already very rich and the butter sauce tipped the dish into the unctuous range.

Fortunately the dessert options were much lighter. Our final glass was a 2021 straw wine Mullineux, Swartland Wine of Origin, 100% Chenin Blanc - we got caramelized apple and a bit of sundried tomato. The main dessert was a honey cake, with cream, beeswax butter, honeycomb tuile, oxidized pear compote sorbet, bee pollen, dollops of pear gel - so many fun components, not too sweet or too rich.

We finished with a few small treats:

We then walked for nearly an hour to get to Botanist for a nightcap. We tried:

  • Gardens Of Japan [right]: Japanese whisky, elderflower, honeyed Riesling, lemon, rosemary carbonated water - very pleasant, nice balance of tart and sweet.
  • Wild & Free [left]: Cognac, bitter Bianco, rosé Aperitif, red currant, blood orange, grapefruit, thyme - more remarkable, great balance of bitter, tart and sweet, with redcurrant and grapefruit quite prominent.

Our other dinner was with a group that included several vegetarians, so I booked The Acorn, which had been on my list even though we are not vegetarian. They provided a superb multi-course sharing menu, very focused on local sourcing. Each dish was distinct in flavours and the meal didn’t over-rely on carbs like some vegetarian places. They also had a nice selection of BC wines. Staff were all warm, friendly, and helpful. Everyone in the group seemed to really enjoy the experience.

Our group shared 3 lovely BC wines:

  • Riesling-Gewurztraminer orange from Rigour and Whimsy, “The Beast”, 2020, Okanagan Falls - really interesting, quite tannic and mineral, not floral like many orange wines.
  • Cabernet Franc, Ursa Major “Welcome to Hard Times”, 2022, Oliver, BC - a chilled light red, a bit of bloody and metallic, with loads of red fruit.
  • Muscat orange, Artakama “Skin Contact Muscat”, 2021, Oliver - very floral and our favourite of the night.

We each started with a small bowl of broth with rosehip, spruce and basil oil - many layers of flavours, like drinking a warm forest.

The first dish proper featured beets (red and orange, in slices, smoked, brined and pastrami spiced), apple and sauerkraut, whole grain mustard, fermented horseradish emulsion, crispy maple blossoms, with a dish of yuzu ponzu sauce - light, colourful, and lots of fun.

Their house sourdough bread followed, made from Marquis wheat - it had great chew and came with spring blossom flavoured butter, mint stem vinegar for dipping.

The best of the cold dishes featured an eye-catching array of raw sunchoke slices with dollops of salal sweet and sour sauce, burnt onion, and sumac dusted sunchoke chips on top.

Bok choy salad was dressed with nam jim vinaigrette, plum hoisin, crispy shallots, and toasted hazelnuts - fresh and with a decent spicy kick.

Then on to tender shiitake over soy braised squash, kelp, ginger stem emulsion, ginger leaf, housemade “XO” sauce (which wasn’t really reminiscent of XO sauce, but was still very tasty).

One of the main dishes focused on Cropthorne Farm cannellini beans, with sliced rutabaga (marinated, poached and seared), preserved fig salsa verde, confit garlic, charred leek oil and pickled shallots - the beans were creamy and the whole dish was fragrant and complex.

The special main for the day was housemade green trofie, fiddleheads, local Parmesan, green garlic nettle and catnip pesto, and topped with fresh catnip leaves, toasted hazelnuts, and basil oil - this was a standout, with perfect pasta and lots of spring herbal flavours.

A light salad of seared endive, pink lady apples and emulsion, elderflower vinaigrette, hazelnut croccante, bricked pickled green apricot, Country Blue cheese, fresh radicchio, and frisée provided some refreshing contrast to the other two mains.

A lovely palate cleanser of melon rind granite and rhubarb compote was a nice pause.

The one dessert was a wild berry (salmonberry, huckleb erry) compote with fennel frond sorbet, rose hip chantilly cream, meringue of Nootka rose, green citrus leaf custard, and red-flowering currant - also light and very pretty.

For our nightcap this time, we tried The Keefer Bar for the first time. It wasn’t busy and we had time to chat with our bartender, who provided lots of insights into BC’s liquor licensing compared with other provinces. We tried:

  • Sweet and Sour Sour [left]: Beefeater gin, Ardbeg 5-yr scotch, acidified pineapple, red pepper, honey, garnished with ketchup chip spiced chicharron - tangy, vegetal, and vibrant - first time we have had a mainly vegetal cocktail where the sweetness worked well in balance.
  • Overnight Crush [right]: Pisco, Ford’s gin, rosé vermouth, lychee cream soda, elderflower foam - bright, floral, fizzy, and far too easy to drink.

For one of our lunches, we went to the Robson location of Japadog again:

  • Cilantro Dog [right]: all-beef dog, marinated cilantro, peanuts, and chili con carne - a souped-up chili dog.
  • Spicy Cheese Terimayo [left]: a spicy cheese smokie, nori seaweed, teriyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, fried onions - a more straightforward and yet equally enjoyable Japanese-style dog.

We also made it to YVR early enough that we could dine at the Japadog before security. We tried one more dog: Japamiso BLT - all beef dog, special miso sauce, tomato, bacon, lettuce - lots of fun.

My wife loves takoyaki, so we ordered 3 - a bit oily, soft centre, octopus was slightly overdone.

We also tried the Omi rice fluffy egg with beefy curry over rice - the egg was indeed fluffy and the curry was great comfort food.

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Looks fantastic. Glad you had a nice visit.

I wish we had more Japanese breakfasts downtown, on the west side. While I like Ohiru on College St in Toronto, they don’t make fluffy eggs or omelettes, and the menu is quite limited. Film Cafe has one rolled Tokyo omelette, which wasn’t fluffy, and that seems to be the only Japanese breakfast dish.

I realize Sakawa Coffee is on the Danforth. I am rarely on the Danforth before noon these days!

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