I was in Vancouver this past weekend, the city where I grew up, and was reminded of what a great dining scene it has. I now live in LA and the two things I appreciate most about Vancouver, in comparison to LA are: 1) the profusion of bubble tea cafes where you can get not just good pearls (or boba, as Los Angelenos like to call it), but also a wide selection of Asian snacks like spicy wontons and fried chicken knees and have a Jolin music video playing in the background (having spent the last half a year in Taipei, I'm particularly nostalgic) and 2) In Vancouver, one can actually afford a nice meal on a regular basis, whereas a lot of the good LA restaurants tend to be pretty expensive.
On to the restaurant reviews:
Zest, 2775 West 16th Ave.
My companion and I sat front and center at the counter where the sushi chef worked in front of us the whole time. The service was professional and friendly and my friend struck up a lengthy conversation with the chef about the restaurant, about the hyper expensive sushi restaurants in the US like Masa and Urasawa, about sushi in Japan and other topics. Some of the most memorable dishes were the tuna carpaccio (sliced slightly thicker than I've seen at other places, but it works really well) and the wine jelly for dessert (chilled and refreshing, it managed to taste exactly like wine without the bitter alcoholic aftertaste). The food was excellent, but I think the humility and warmth of the chef also really added to our experience.
Brix, 1138 Homer St. www.brixvancouver.com
This was my third visit to the restaurant over a period of five or six years, and it's been consistently strong. They did lose our reservation but were seated right away on a Saturday night nonetheless. We started with a sundried tomato, boccacio and butter lettuce salad dressed in balsamic vinegar and olive oil with olive and tomato tapenades (tasty and refreshing) and also a foie gras which I paired with a Sauternes (very nice, but then I've never had foie gras that wasn't). After that, we had the prosciutto wrapped scallops which were done just right and had that almost-gooey-but-not-quite texture in the middle. We also had the mussels with bananas in green curry sauce. The mussels were really large and plump, and surprisingly good with the banana. We had ordered tapas style, and we couldn't even finish our four dishes, but mostly because there were so many mussels (I think you get a pound or something). Still, we saved room for dessert, which were doughnut ball things with chocolate and kahlua sauce. We both loved them and my companion said he could never have another Timbit again. Very considerate service and a good meal overall.
Shiru-Bay, 1193 Hamilton St, www.shiru-bay.com
This was probably the most fun restaurant of all. As a Japanese fusion restaurant, it had a lot of fun, inventive dishes. Some of the standouts were: cheese tofu (a light, sweet spread that went on bread... it was almost like a dessert), the red dragonball (sushi rice topped with smoked salmon, salmon roe and masago.. I am still salivating over this one), and asparagus gyoza (imagine a regular gyoza with an asparagus stalk speared through it). I had one of their Tokyo cocktails which come in all kinds of fruity flavors (I had the mixed berry). They were under five bucks and were more like smoothies than cocktails. The atmosphere is fun and hip with the youthful waitstaff heartily yelling out "welcome" in Japanese every two minutes or so (it was almost rather startling).
Oh, and if you are dining in Yaletown (at Brix, Shiru-Bay or any other restaurant) you might consider stopping by Afterglow (attached to Glowbal restaurant) for a tasty cocktail and some prawn, scallop, or lamb skewers. I was there on Monday night and the small intimate setting was a good space for catching up with friends.
Hm, I'm seriously considering moving back to Vancouver in the next few years. Appreciate what you've got, Vancouverites!