Restaurants & Bars 7

Eating Vancouver

iron frank | Aug 13, 2002 01:30 AM

The Vancouver dining scene is usually a rather predictable one. Every year we go the usual suspects are on everyone’s top chow lists. This year there seems to be more change in the air than ever though. Some of my favorite places like Haru, Genki Noodles, and Cambie Bubble tea house are now shuttered up. Korean restaurants seem to be popping up as rapidly as Hong Kong establishments did a few years ago. It’s quite an exciting time to visit and eat your way through this blossoming dining scene.

We discovered a wonderful small Sushi restaurant in Kerrisdale called Ajisai Sushi Bar that’s difficult to find but worth the trouble. Delicious tuna sashimi with natto. The Nigiri sushi were incredibly fresh, cut to a perfect shape, and bound to a small rectangle of rice by a neat, collar of tender nori. The place is really laid-back and is an extreme bargain for this quality of fish.

My favorite new late-night joint is the new "Guu" spinoff called "Guu with Garlic". Similar menu of Japanese appetizers in a more laid back environment. It lacks the manic energy of the original with the loud cheery waitstaff but the food’s just as good and they’re open later. Try the Yakisoba omuretsu, fried noodles encased in a salty omelette shell. Even better is the Ume udon. Pan-fried noodles with plums, perilla, beef, and mushrooms. It’s a much homier dish than it sounds with a vague stroganoff quality.

Nearby Gyoza King is a similar ambience as Guu and they have later hours but the takeout options were pretty limited and the pork and vegetable Gyoza were the best thing I tried. A japanese "congee" was kind of bland and bitter at the same time.

I finally got around to Habibi’s really enjoyed their babaganoush which was thick and creamy and not too smokey. This place takes everything they do pretty seriously, like in a professional culinary school way more than a homey way I don’t mean that as a knock as they definitely care about this food. The gimmicky jalapeno hummus wasn’t so hot but dolmas were very good and they gave me almost a whole bag of pitas to go with my small order.

Wild Rice is the kind of gimmicky place that would be so easy to screw up. It’s a chic Global Asian tapas restaurant but everything was so good I can’t knock anything except the bubble headed service. The cooking here is really dead on, with intense flavor.

For a solid stylish seafood restaurant with a top notch sushi bar it’s hard to Blue Water Café in Yaletown. They’ve got a very lovely patio that is perfect for outdoor dining in the short Vancouver summer. The sushi was some of the best I’ve had in town. Local oysters were perfect. Our entrees also satisfied. Unfortunately I don’t think they attract many locals. A lot of loud tourists and stuffy business travellers. If you eat on the patio sit on the left side away from the toxic fumes of the Cigar shop next door.

Sami’s is West Coast Indian fusion. Really affordable and reminiscent of a less chic version of Vij’s. Having the chef’s cookbook on every table is a ballsy move but the food doesn’t quite match the level of bravado it aspires to. Everything was well spiced but not very deep. It was an affair of flavors that soon got tired and the portions were unfortunately large. Small details like cut tortilla wraps served in lieu of naan were annoying. The Basmati rice Paella was sweet from the caramelized vegetables and onioin. There was a surpising amount of tomato flavor(that wasn’t mentioned on the menu which made it sound like it was going to be a yellow saffron based curry). The flavors, although appealing clashed with the fragrant Madras Chicken curry we also ordered. We were the only ones in the place at lunch and they were very sweet even offering us unlimited amounts of free chai. This place has potential and is affordable but I’d go at night when it’s less echoey. The décor would be improved by ditching the horrible hanging art pieces like a mini-tennis court with apples for balls and sticking with the black and white photos.

Memphis Blues is the most critically acclaimed BBQ place in town but that’s not saying much. The owner has this "faux" wiseass attitude that apparently he feels should make the food seem more authentic. Well his food can’t backup his attitude. The only good thing sampled was the melting pulled pork. The sides were ignorable as were the accompanying sauces and cornbread. I think Fatzo’s on West Broadway is slightly better IIRC, especially considering the lines outside of Memphis spill into the street.

There are a few late night options on lower options off of Lower Robson St. Four of which are youthful Korean hipster hangouts. My new favorite is a former Greek Taverna complete with a giant fresco of all of the Greek Isles and clay pottery on the shelves. I think the name of it is "Ap Go Dol" but it’s not clearly labelled. The sweet and spicy squid dish I ordered was filled with tender calamari and potatoes in a spicy sweet, vinegared, thick red soy based sauce.

Two other really late night options are the Congee Noodle House on East Broadway but I’d stick with the simple roasted meats. Also the Kwong Chow Congee & noodle House LTD. On Main St. makes a mean batch of Jook considering they’re open at 2am.

We branched out of our usual Sophie’s Cosmic Café ritual(still great by the way, especially the Ashoura wheat) to try Tangerine. This place has an interesting brunch menu though the décor and food is spare. The whole wheat banana pancakes were very hearty but I could have used more of them . Everything was done minimally including the cheese in my wife’s omelete. The coffee is good though.

Super healthy soy gelato at Mondo Gelato is great for the lactose incapable. Stick with the coconut flavor, that wheat germ gelato is like eating the end of a frozen straw broom.

Conch Roti at Roti Bistro on West Fourth was microwaved but still was reasonably tender. I’d go for the another meat choice with higher turnover. The Sea Moss beverage was sweet but not too much mossy flavor, maybe that’s a good thing. Overall you could get much better in other cities but if you crave some Caribbean cuisine this might be the only place except for a couple of Jamaican joints on Commercial Dr.(including the jerk pizza boys).

If you want some fresher than usual fast food for a picnic you could do worse than a teri wrap at Wrap Zone or one of the non-wet steamed burritos at Steamrollers.

Some letdowns included a horrible 2 for 1 not-so-special meal at my former favorite Tropika Malaysian and Indonesian restaurant. Maybe the West Broadway location isn’t as consistent as the Cambie St. branch or it might have been the off hour but in general whenever we’re the only ones in the restaurant we’re still going to get the worst service and the oldest food.

AVOID the DeDutch Pannekoek chain at all costs. Vile food at high prices. You could do better in the dumpsters behind any IHOP.

Vancouver is a welcoming buffet of some of the world’s finest cuisines. I can’t wait to eat there again in September. Some places to check out on my next visit include the Golden Onion(a new Japanese curry restaurant), Tan Tan Mi on East Hastings for Bahn Mi. King Neptune Seafood and Sea Harbor Seafood in Richmond for Dim Sum. Lucy Mae Brown for local fare.


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