We just got back from 6 days in Vancouver. Since we got so many of our food tips from Chowhound, we thought we'd return the favor with our thoughts on our culinary experiences there.
We really enjoyed our "fusion Indian" style dinner at Vij's, a contemporary restaurant with all black walls. We started with naan with pureed eggplant. Dinner was duck breast on risotto, with spicy lentils, which was great. We also had lamb chops (they call them "popsicles"), with a creamy masala like curry sauce. I wish I could remember exactly what the sauces were made of -- they had rich and complex flavors, with a touch of spiciness. The owner of the restaurant was friendly and walked around talking to his customers. The dessert was the classic Indian "donuts" with pistachio in a honey based syrup. I don't normally like this dessert, but the server convinced us to try it -- the textures and flavors were great, not too sweet or soggy like other times I've had this dessert at other places. Meal for two was reasonable, about $50 Cdn including tip.
Guu with Garlic:
We liked this place so much (plus it was reasonably priced), that we went back two nights in a row. They specialize in Japanese small plate appetizers, like tapas, many of which are sprinkled with small slivers of deep fried garlic (hence the name). They can get crowded, so we would recommend reservations. Over two nights, we had a deep fried tofu in broth (agedashi tofu), eel over egg, rice, and slivered cucumbers, baby octopus fried in batter dressed with tonkatsu and japanese mayonnaise, raw tuna chunks with scallions and sesame soyu sauce, (cooked) scallops over slivered radish cucumber salad with sweet vinegar based sauce, deep fried japanese "pancakes" with daikon and cabbage dressed with tonkatsu / japanese mayonnaise, .... Each appetizer cost about $4-6 Cdn, and 4-5 appetizers was definitely enough for both of us for dinner. They also have alot of interesting sounding alcholic drinks, though we only had beer. An altogether fun, delicious, and affordable experience.
We decided to try this place after all the reviews we read. It was a really great dining experience, but you definitely pay $$ for it. We sat at the counter, and Tojo served us chef's choice until we told him we were full. We noticed that there are a few classics he served to everyone at the bar, but he varied the more typical items. Some of these works of art are hard to describe -- here's an attempt: chopped tuna marinated in sesame-soy sauce (good), morel mushrooms stuffed with crab, rolled in chopped seaweed, and deep fried (wonderful earthy flavor, great texture), smoked sable fish with mushrooms and asparagus wrapped in parchment paper (very moist fish, nice subtle smoked flavor, very good), amaebi nigiri (very sweet local raw shrimp), raw salmon / tuna / scallop in crepe roll, geoduck (mirugai) nigiri, home smoked wild salmon (wonderful color, nice flavor, but it was a bit icy, like it was still defrosting), some type of hamachi, a plate of 5 strips of sashimi which you eat rolled around a small piece of grapefruit (there was also a delicate amount of a citrusy/salty-seaweed sauce dribbled on.... this sashimi plate was one of our favorites.... really a great meshing of flavors), cucumber wrapped tempura shrimp with bits of mango, .... I think the reason why Tojo is so good is that he is experimental with flavors (and does it well), but doesn't go overboard on huge gimmicky rolls. He also intersperses more complex dishes with very simple ones. We ended with little Japanese oysters with minced ice / citrus dressing over ice. Dessert was a banana/apple egg roll with coconut ice cream. We had a large beer and tea, and the bill before tip was $295 Cdn. Yikes! Thankfully, we were forewarned. Tojo made several references to dining at the best sushi restaurant in NYC for $400/person -- perhaps to not so subtlely warn us about the cost of good food. We have an excellent sushi restaurant in the silicon valley (Kitsuo in Cupertino), where a wonderful sushi dinner costs maybe $80 for two. Tojo's is definitely a step above that, not in freshness or portion size, but in creativity. I'm glad I tried it, but I don't think that I would pay the premium on a regular basis.
We had dim sum here. Imperial has a very central location, near the waterfront station. We had a large group for our lunch, and got to try many things. Their dumplings seem to be standouts -- very fresh, large plump dumplings stuffed with seafood. Generally excellent dim sum.
We also tried this place, after first driving to Fook Yuen in Richmond, and finding that it had changed owners and name the month before. The dim sum at Fortune was very fresh. As it was just the two of us, we didn't get to try as much as we had at Imperial. We didn't feel that there was much of a difference in quality between Fortune and Imperial. Price was about $32 Cdn for two. Northern Ca. has such great Chinese food, including great dimsum (Koi Palace, Mayflower, Joy Luck Place, HK Flower Lounge,...) that we didn't feel that Fortune or Imperial were all that special or unique. The exchange rate, however, did make the Vancouver places a relative bargain compared to the California places.
We would highly recommend this wonderful gelato place on Robson street, across from the Blue Horizon hotel. One interesting flavor we recommend is "rice crispies", which is basically the same as "riso", rice flavored gelato that is very popular in Italy. We would also recommend trying "black sesame", a flavor common in Asian desserts. This incredibly rich nutty flavor may be an acquired taste, but we loved it. We also tried dark chocolate (great, but so intense, it made it difficult to taste the second, weaker flavor) and pistachio (also very good).
We stayed for a few nights at the YWCA. It is unbeatable in price, about $50US for a small room with TV/phone and shared bathroom (with one other room). It is clean and well run, has a secure parking area, and centrally located on Robson. The last few blocks do get a bit quiet, but it feels safe. As a splurge for the last two nights, we moved to the Blue Horizon right in the center of the busiest part of Robson, with a wonderful view of the bay from the 29th floor. All the money we saved by staying in the Y, we blew in one night at Tojo's. ;-)