I got to spend a few days in Vancouver last week, and in between catching up with friends and family I managed to eat three dinners and two lunches out. As usual, I was very happy with the restaurants I ate at, and even though I live in San Francisco, where we also have a vibrant dining scene, I always look forward to my trips up to Vancouver just for the food.
The first meal was a late lunch at Wild Rice, which was very disappointing. I started with a "traditional recipe hot & sour soup with grilled squid." This was definitely not a traditional hot and sour soup as it tasted overly sweet and the broth was much more opaque than normal. The squid tasted fishy, almost as if it hadn't been cleaned very well. For main course, I had the "shiitake dusted aaa canadian beef tenderloin" noodle dish. This dish tasted OK though it was not particularly flavorful, I had to ask for some hot sauce to help spruce it up a bit. Overall, not a place I'd recommend based on the dishes I ordered.
The first dinner was at Parkside, which was my second visit to the restaurant in three months. Just as the first time I ate there, a top notch experience with delicious food, nice atmosphere and great service. The menu consists of a three course prix fixe for $40, with something like seven choices for each course. A couple of the choices have a small supplement ($2 to $6). The wine list is reasonably interesting though a bit expensive (that's a general complaint of mine with Vancouver restaurants).
I started with a mushroom risotto that was really tasty and perfectly cooked, and my dining companion had the watercress salad, which was well executed. For main courses, she had wild Copper River salmon, and I had roast loin of lamb. Both dishes were very good, and the bottle of red Burgundy we ordered went well with both. For dessert, she had the ubiquitous chocolate fondant cake, and I had a more unusual but equally nice rhubarb and vanilla trifle. The total for two three course meals (with one or two supplements cost wise), a bottle of wine, two glasses of dessert wine, tax and tip came to a little of $200, a fair price for the quality of the meal.
The next lunch was at Bacchus, which turned out to be a good and reasonably priced choice for lunch. All the entrees are under $20, and since we ate light (three appetizers, four entrees, one dessert, three large bottles of water and two coffees for five people), we ended up spending about $30 per person with tax and tip. Definitely a good value. The highlight for me was the Grilled Fillet of Royal Sea Bream, which consisted of two pieces of fillet with the skin still on. The fish was cooked perfectly, especially the skin which was delicously crispy. Great dish, I would definitely order it again. Overall, everything we had was quite good, we left the restaurant very happy.
The next dinner was supposed to be at Banana Leaf, but the Denman location had a 45 minute wait at 9:30pm on Friday night, and the Broadway location couldn't seat us before their closing time. Cru wasn't able to seat our party of seven either, so we ended up with Maurya as our third choice. It was a nice somewhat traditional Indian meal, our favorite dishes being the bindhi followed by the lamb vindaloo. The butter naan and the roti were very good, as was the ras malai for dessert. A satisfying meal, and with most of the entrees under $15, a good value as well. Not quite at the level of Vij's, but I'd be happy to go back sometime.
Finally, the last dinner was at Chambar, and it ended up being the highlight of the trip. The five of us started by sharing four appetizers. My favorite was the hand chopped venison tartare, which was lightly but perfectly seasoned, and was the best tartare I've had in a long time (including the one I had on a recent visit to Paris). Another clear winner was the octopus carpaccio, which was topped with fried capers. Not to be outdone, the maple seared scallops with mushrooms were also excellent, which left the baked goat cheese tart as the only merely good first course.
We then split two orders of mussels and two main courses. The Vin Blanc mussels were very traditional, cooked in white wine with braised leeks and other root vegetables. In this presentation, the sweetness of the super fresh local mussels really shone through, even my cousin who claimed to dislike mussels really liked this rendition. But the Congolaise, which were cooked in a sauce with tomato, smoked chilli, cilantro, coconut cream and lime, were absolutely incredible. We couldn't stop drinking the sauce up from our little bowls after finish the mussels. The only disappointment of the meal came in the form of the fries that accompanied the mussels. They were soggy, and the potatoes they used were too sweet, nothing like the delicously crispy, twice fried belgian frites I was expecting.
For main courses, we turned to some of the Tunisian influenced dishes and shared the lamb tagine, which consisted of a whole lamb shank braised figs and honey and served with couscous on the side, and the pan seared halibut with a tamarind sauce. The halibut was good though not very exciting. We found the tagine a little bland, so we asked for some harissa (I was very happy when it turned out that they did have some in the kitchen) which helped the dish out. But the lamb itself was beautifully cooked, it just melted in our mouths.
For dessert, we were all in a chocolate mood, so we shared the gaufre liegoise, which was served with chocolate sauce and raspberry coulis on the side and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, the belgian chocolate mousse, which was served on top of a white chocolate parfait, and the mocha fondant with hazelnut ice cream on the side. The chocolate mousse was just OK, but the waffle was really good. It tasted great on its own, as well as topped with the coulis or the chocolate sauce. The highlight though was the mocha fondant, which was a molten chocolate cake served in a little tea cup, with just enough coffee in the cake to give it a more robust flavor without making it bitter. We were all fighting over it, and had we not been running late, we would have ordered an extra one (or two).
The wine list was one of the best once we saw on the trip, and we ended up settling on a delicious bottle of Gruner Veltiner. The gentleman that puts the wine list together came out to serve us the wine, and made a point of telling us that it was his personal favorite among the white wines they have. The total with that one bottle of wine, two belgian beers and a couple of coffees was just a little over $50 per person, a great value for the best meal of the trip.
I'm really looking forward to the next time I fly up to Vancouver. Past favorites have included West, Vij's, Cru and Tojo's (probably in that order), and next on the list are Baru Latino and Lumiere/Feenie's, as well as Banana Leaf if I can make it in. Oh, one more thing I really like about Vancouver is that most restaurants have a website, which for some reason is not the case in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here are the links for the restaurants I ended up visiting on this trip: