Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vancouver Foodie Adventures

For my very first Thanksgiving outside of the United States since age one, I decided to schlep across multiple time zones to visit one of my dearest friends in Vancouver, British Columbia.

As a foodie, Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday of the year, and I'm generally wont to cook (or at least contribute to) a lavish meal of epic proportions. That said, it's a *big deal* to be visiting a country that doesn't even celebrate Thanksgiving when I do -- and with no plans even to be cooking or baking! (I have to admit though that prepping a lavish meal of epic proportions is quite exhausting, so perhaps this trip was more of a blessing than a curse.)

DAY 1:

Upon arriving in downtown Vancouver via the super speedy SkyTrain, I decided that I was starving. After having nothing more than some dark chocolate peanut butter cups care of Justin's (OMG - DELICIOUS!) and several ChocoPods care of Chuao (perfect packages of chocolate goodness) from a chi-chi food vendor at the Seattle airport, I was in need of some serious eats.

My first stop was Jugo Juice, a Canadian juice and smoothie chain (reminiscent of my beloved Jamba Juice), where I picked up a refreshing Wacky Watermelon Snackin' Smoothie. With so many delicious foodie adventures awaiting me, I couldn't necessarily jump the gun on calories, so at 14 oz. and only 150 calories, this was the perfect way to kick off the afternoon.

A good strategy, especially since I proceeded to bump into the most amazing food truck outside the Vancouver Art Gallery -- Mom's Grilled Cheese. One of the few exceptions to my no-bread lifestyle is grilled cheese sandwiches, especially ones with BACON. For my order, I chose multi-grain bread, havarti cheese, and double-smoked bacon. After buttering and toasting my bread, letting my cheese melt, and crisping up my bacon, Cindy (the proprietor) handed me my sandwich, cut in half, and placed in a paper cone.

Despite my pangs of hunger, I tried to savor every bite, allowing my teeth to enjoy the multiple layers of texture and flavor -- the buttery crunch of the bread, the mild ooze of the havarti, and the salty crisp of the bacon. Before I knew it, the sandwich was gone, and to my surprise, I still had a bunch of homemade chips waiting for me at the bottom of the cone. And while I generally avoid anything associated with the white potato, I thought I'd indulge this once. The whole experience was phenomenal -- I only wish I'd had enough room in my stomach to try the rest of the menu.

As I wandered from downtown to Gastown, I came across the Juice Truck. Seeing as how I was still so full, I really didn't want to stop. Unfortunately, I simply can't resist sweet things, so I ended up picking up a cacao coconut bar to go. The staff made sure to let me know that the bar was raw, and that it could be left at room temperature for a few hours, but that it should probably be refrigerated for any time thereafter. I decided to take one bite, and then another, and then of course a few more. In a matter of minutes, the bar had vanished -- and my sweet tooth had been sated, by a fairly healthy-tasting bar no less. Are we surprised that I had no room for dinner?

DAY 2:

Allowing myself to sleep in a few hours the first night, I was more than ready for another day's worth of roaming. After some serious and focused putzing, I finally made my way out into the cold and windy drizzle that characterizes Vancouver in November. Upon my friend's recommendation, I decided to check out JapaDog, a hot dog-focused chain of carts and restaurants.

After making sure I had enough cash (the restaurant doesn't accept credit cards or large bills) and checking out their extensive hot dog menu, I decided to try the Okinomi, a hot dog made of Kurobuta pork, covered in bonito flakes, and drizzled in Japanese mayonnaise. As a pig lover, I couldn't resist ordering the pork. That said, it was really the bonito flakes and the Japanese mayonnaise that made the experience. The whole combination was like a party on the palate.

While I would've loved to try the dessert dogs with ice cream (like match green tea), I'd done a bit of Yelp research online, and I was dead set on trying the best ice cream in my friend's neighborhood of Yaletown. All reviews pointed to Yaletown Gelato, so despite the freezing rain, I decided I had to find the shop. Tucked away inside a smaller and quieter mall, I quickly made my way in to sample a variety of flavors.

Being a s'mores fan, I decided on the toasted marshmallow, a flavor akin to Capogiro's burnt sugar. For contrast, I went with the traditional panna, which tasted like a milder vanilla. The combination was perfect, as the toasted marshmallow seemed sweeter and richer in comparison to the panna. I certainly didn't need two scoops, but yet again, I couldn't really help myself. Overall, the gelato seemed denser than I've had elsewhere, and I might've preferred more air to lighten things up a bit.

After three hours at the local pool hall, an hour in the gym, and a hot shower, it was just about time for...Thanksgiving dinner! Because my friend had to work late, and because I was in no mood to cook while on vacation, we decided to have one of her favorites for dinner -- Phnom Penh, a Cambodian restaurant tucked away in Chinatown.

On a quiet street with no other lighted storefronts, the restaurant looked like a beacon of sorts. I'm thankful that we arrived before 9PM, because we were quickly ushered in and told that it was last call. Talk about providence. While the staff worked to find us a table, we had the chance to peruse some very thick menus. After debating how starving we were, how full we wanted to be, and how many dishes we wanted to try, we decided on: the deep fried chicken wings with lemon pepper dipping sauce, the lu lac (beef dish) with fried egg, and the lemongrass chicken. (My friend wanted to find a vegetable dish, but failed miserably.)

Seeing as how it was indeed Thanksgiving, some sort of poultry had to be part of the meal. And happily for us, we had two different version of chicken to enjoy that night. The chicken wings were hot, crispy, *and* juicy, with my friend falling head over heels for the dipping sauce. The lemongrass chicken though was by far my favorite, serving as a kicked-up version of teriyaki chicken -- less saucy, more seasoned. Beyond the chicken, the beef was well-seasoned, though a bit more saucy for me personally.

DAY 3:

Of all things to be thankful for, I was especially thankful that my friend had a day off on a gorgeous sunny day to explore Vancouver together. Seeing as how the weather report had predicted rain for the entire trip, we were keen on spending as many hours outside as possible.

We trekked through Yaletown and downtown, and skimmed the edge of Gastown, to check out the waterfront of the Burrard Inlet. The skyline on this side of town is particularly futuristic, as if pulled out of a science fiction movie set in some other time on some other planet. As we moved up toward Coal Harbour, we found the waterfront peppered with luxury yachts, modern houseboats, and seaplanes, bringing us back to our time if not our own lives.

Armed with our Starbucks drinks (with 18% coffee cream -- why doesn't the US have this?) and this season's Cranberry Bliss Bar, we made our way around the edge of Stanley Park, a piece of land with about eight kilometers of waterfront trail. We decided to trek out to Brockton Point and back (about four kilometers round-trip), and we got some great views of the skyline, alongside other walkers, runners, bikers, and rollerbladers. After checking out a military gun, a disappointing lighthouse, and some totem poles, we were ready for lunch.

From the park, my friend led us to the West End for Korean food at Jang Mo Jib. Between the two of us, we ordered a kim chi hot pot that arrived on a mobile burner. As my friend ladled out the hot soup, we realized that we got out fair share of kim chi, but not our fair share of beef. And at $25+, we were definitely disappointed at the lack of meat represented. In addition, the banchan (spread of complimentary small dishes) was quite limited.

Happily, this left room for delicious gelato from Gelarmony. (Who could resist stopping at a place with a name like that?) For a lighter option, I went with the lychee and passion fruit sorbetto. More so than the ones at Capogiro have ever been able to do, these sorbetto conveyed true fruit flavor -- as if I was biting straight into cold lychee and passion fruit. Mmmm....

After strolling further along the water from English Bay to False Creek, we decided to take an impromptu trip over to Granville Island via Aquabus. At $5.50 for a round-trip ticket, the price is rather steep. For a tourist, the trip is worth it, especially with the holiday season upon us. In addition to jewelry, glass, and clothes, we found shops that sold brooms (yes, brooms!) and totem poles (a bit of a check-in challenge).

Not surprisingly, my favorite stop was the Granville Island Public Market, a market akin to Reading Terminal, with lots of gourmet goodness -- fresh seafood, fresh produce, gourmet chocolates, and delicious pastries. Before we headed back across the water, my friend made sure we stopped by the Granville Island Tea Company, which supposedly has the best chai in Vancouver. My friend took hers with fresh grated ginger and cayenne pepper, while I took mine with ginger alone. An intense blend of tea, milk, and spices, and a lovely bit of ginger to chew in between sips.

To close out our night of feasting, we picked up my friend's husband and headed straight for Carolina style barbecue at Peckinpah in Gastown. Having passed by the restaurant earlier on in the week, I was dead set on coming back for the fried Mars bar noted on the list of dessert specials. And as a barbecue lover, I was ecstatic to try barbecue on this side of the border.

Of the various platters available, we went with the "Divorce" -- a half order of everything (beef brisket, beef short rib, pork ribs, pulled pork, jalapeno pork sausage), four sides (we decided on the Southern greens, creamed corn, baked beans, and coleslaw), and jalapeno cornbread. Thankfully, we didn't order more than that, because we were barely able to finish the voluminous amount of food that showed up at our table.

The beef short rib was by far the favorite of the night -- perfectly seasoned with dry rub, moist and tender, falling off the bone. While the beef brisket and pork sausage were both dry and grainy, the pork ribs and pulled pork were easily salvageable with a bit of Carolina style barbecue sauce and chili vinegar. On the other hand, all of the sides were delicious -- the Southern greens not too salty, the creamed corn not too sweet, the baked beans not too mushy, and the coleslaw not too creamy.

With the last bit of room in our stomachs, we ordered the fried Mars bar, which came warm and melting. While I'm a fan of any fried candy bar, I have to admit that nothing compares to the fried Twix bar from A Salt & Battery in New York. There's something about the crunch of the cookie that balances out the ooze of the chocolate. So while the fried Mars bar was delicious in terms of flavor, it came up short in terms of texture.

DAY 4:

After sleeping in a few extra hours, and getting in an intense Crossfit workout, I picked up a bit of caffeine at JJ Bean in the form of a delicate 6 oz. fresca medici -- a cool drink made with cream, honey, vanilla, ice, and two shots of espresso. Not only was it refreshing and not too sweet, but also perfectly sized, especially since American drinks are often larger than necessary. I also picked up a day-old pumpkin scone, which looked much better than it tasted. The coffee was deep and intense, but perhaps the baked goods should be left to the professionals.

For my final meal of the trip, I was treated to a lovely birthday dinner at Le Crocodile. With French being my favorite cuisine, I was absolutely ecstatic -- and even more after I'd tasted the food. As an amuse-bouche, we were presented with little tarts made with porcini mushrooms and goat cheese -- just enough crust, just enough egg, plenty of earthy mushroom flavor.

As my appetizer, I chose one of the appetizer specials -- a plate of foie gras that could've been seared a bit longer. For my entree, I went with the veal sweetbreads with black truffled foie gras cream sauce. The sweetbreads came perfectly browned, along with thin and crispy potato galettes. The cream sauce brought all of the textural elements together seamlessly.

As we prepped ourselves for dessert, we received a little scoop of pear sorbet to cleanse our palates. This set us up nicely for our passion fruit creme brulee (with passion fruit sorbet) and our lemon tart (with raspberry sorbet). The gooseberries that accompanied our dishes were absolutely bland and pointless, but the citrus in both dishes were lovely ways to end one of the best vacations to date.

Oh, Vancouver, you'll certainly be missed! What a splendid and scrumptious way to kick off another amazing year!


  1. Great Piece! Makes me want to visit Vancouver ASAP.

  2. Yum! A visit to Vancouver needs to be in my future soon.

    Side note: Havarti cheese is the best for grilled cheeses (make that any kind of sandwich, for that matter). Good choice! (:

  3. So great to see this side of Vancouver! I must try making the Grilled Cheese Sandwich you describe...and wish I were there for the Passion Fruit Creme Brulee and Lemon Tart! Love the pix of Granville Island Tea Company...



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