An unexpected trip to Vancouver was made infinitely more palatable (literally so) after a quick trip to the boards to find the answer to that all important question of travel: Where's the good chow?
Before I go headlong into our dining experiences, I just want to thank you for directing us to some real gems. I'm happy to return the favor should you find yourself in San Francisco anytime soon.
We arrived on Monday evening, late, tired, and hungry. That tired thing got the best of us, and we made an unfortunate choice for dinner before we had our bearings or bothered to unpack the laptops to get online and ask. I can't really say our dinner at O'Doul's was bad, but the QPR just wasn't there. The highlight of the meal was the bread basket, which should tell you something of our experience.
We shared a seafood platter to start, accompanied by a two glasses of Okanagan whites (Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc -- the producers escape me and my notes). The smoked salmon and trout included on the plate were delicious, but were lost in a sea of batter-coated, deep fried, somewhat-undistinguisable items (truthfully, the crab cake was fine, as were the sauteed scallops -- tender and sweet -- but the oysters were lost, such a shame!).
My entree was halibut with tapenade over buttered fettucine. The fish was done well, but the tapenade was too thickly pasted on and overpowered the fish. The fettucine was nicely al dente, but the bell pepper/button mushroom garnish was limp and lackluster. My companion Jim (a "local" boy -- from Kelowna via Toronto and now living in SF) had a Canadian surf (lobster tail) and turf (buffalo tenderloin). He enjoyed the buffalo, but was underwhelmed by the lobster, which was dry and flavorless. Both of us commented on how lukewarm the plates and food were upon arrival. Ugh. We did, however, have a tasty Pinot Noir: 2001 Quail's Gate Pinot Noir.
With tip, the meal cost $200 (we would have been better off eating the left-over, smooshed half portabello sandwich and bag of chips from SFO). We went home vowing to find better fare the next day. And did we ever!
After a trip to the ICBC to renew Jim's BC license (complete with friendly staff and an efficient process -- the jokes you see on American TV about the DMV are true, btw). We walked out on Hornby and bumped (literally) into Bacchus, which we'd read about on the boards earlier in the day. We were hoping for a late breakfast, but they were only serving lunch. The waiter was knowledgeable on the wine list and menu, so we knew we were off to a good start. Again, I don't recall the wine I had (a local crisp Sauvingnon Blanc), but Jim started with a Caesar, which he's been raving about since we met (constantly surprised, I guess, at my lack of knowledge of popular Canadian culture).
We were feeling a out of sorts, so we ate (relatively) lightly. I had the Dungeness crab risotto. Creamy, but toothsome and well-seasoned. Jim had the daily pasta, which was a spicy tagliatelle with smoked sable fish. I had to *ask* for a bite (sheesh!) and eagerly helped him sop up the remaining sauce with bread (thankfully the bread basket was not the highlight of our meal so there was some left!).
We'd already decided on our dinner for that evening. Being sushi addicts, we'd scanned the boards for recs and found several promising ones. Octopus' Garden was mentioned several times, so we decided we'd give it a whirl. We weren't sorry.
We arrived a bit earlier than our reservations, but were seated immediately at the bar, where we were greeted by Sada-san, the chef/owner. We chatted briefly with him and watched as he prepared a few plates. (It's always a treat to watch the knife skills of a good sushi chef!) We opted for the Omakase (chef's choice) course for $50 each. We weren't disappointed. The food was phenomenal, so good in fact that Jim and I decided about 1/2 way through that we'd be back the next night (so much for our adventurous nature, but this stuff was top-notch). Here's the rundown of our two visits:
* Oysters on the half shell (both nights): Kumamoto, Effingham, and Yaquina Flats. All tasted of the sea, creamy and briny. Sooo (ooo) good.
* Appetizer plates over the two nights included some amazing bites: traditional stew; duck slices; seared rock cod on seasoned, mashed tofu; salmon/cabbage roll; grilled pork belly with albacore; super-buttery hamachi belly; bluefin tuna cheek meat with a cabbage roll in a sweet and spicy sauce; herring roe on kelp; and mango slices with a mayo-type sauce.
* Halibut cheek salad.
* Albacore wrapped in yuba, crisply (and quickly) fried with wasabi peas and shitake.
* Tataki with lightly seared sockeye salmon and albacore with a generous amount of spouts and onions and paper-thin jalapeno slices (a new twist on me!).
* Fresh, very large Amaebi (not sure of the species of shrimp, but even in the best SF sushi houses, they're never that large) with the entire shell (not just the head), lightly coated and crisply fried (one of my favs!).
* Grilled mackerel.
* Spicy salmon roll with cabbage and ikura.
* Clams and shitake steamed in sake.
* Bluefin tuna and hamachi "picante" (with a rather hot, roasted jalapeno).
* Sizzling mango and maguro. The sizzling platter arrived with the mango already in place. The waitress then placed marinated (ginger, soy, and scallion were predominate) maguro on the plate for a brief few seconds before piling on top of the mango.
* Grilled lobster tail with enoki mushrooms and a mayo sauce. Now *this* is what lobster should taste like. What a treat!
* Tako and fresh mackerel (seared -- like buttah!).
Everything we had was artfully prepared, of the highest quality and well worth the price. We are still blissed-out by the experience (although that could be due to the six 300 ml bottles of sake we consumed...). Sada-san is a delightful man, and we will be back on our next trip north.
We also had breakfast at Paul's Place Omlettery one morning. We both enjoyed a hearty (and artery clogging) meal, me with a smoked salmon, shrimp, and asparagus omelette; and Jim with not-so-traditional, but nonetheless tasty, eggs benedict.
Finally, this morning before our flight we ate at La Bretagne Creperie across from our hotel on Jervis and were pleasantly surprised by the delicate crepes, the perfectly done eggs, and the friendly service.
Although our stomachs do preoccupy us (something none of you will find surprising, I'm sure), as this was my first trip to Vancouver, I just want to express how much I enjoyed your city. It's beautiful (loved the Capsilano bridge and park in the rain!!), clean and friendly. I can't wait to return!
A (very pleased) SF Hound