Although I’ve lived in cities, I’m really a small-town guy. There are some things about city life that I miss, though, and one of them is great dining. Neither my wife, Cathy, nor I are really “foodies”, we just really enjoy high-quality meals of all types, fine wines, and in my case, high quality single-malt Scotches. When we were looking for a mid-winter break, we decided to fly to Vancouver for a long weekend at the start of Dine Out Vancouver and indulge in those and other pleasures. The experience turned out to be better than we ever imagined, and will be almost certainly be an annual getaway now.
Our journey began with one of the most dramatic flights in the world, 2 hours and 15 minutes long, down the granite spine of the Coast Mountains in one of Air North’s Boeing 737s. The first photo shows the evening view looking north over Surprise Lake at Atlin, a community that I’ll be showing you much more of in future posts.
We didn’t land at Vancouver until 6:15 Friday evening, but the Canada Line offers an easy, safe and inexpensive way to get downtown from YVR (2-zone fare is $7.75 each). Being from Toronto originally, Cathy is an old-timer with this sort of transportation, but it was built long after I moved north, so it’s quite a novelty for me, and in any case I enjoy any type of well-built machine.
After a quick check-in at our hotel, we decided to start the trip off right by going to the p2b bistro & bar across the street for dinner. We had discovered p2b while on a 4-day visit to Vancouver prior to boarding an Alaska cruise ship last year, and thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere, the meals and the service. This time, we chose from their special Dine Out prix fixe menu ($28 each), Cathy the Grilled Pemberton Meadows Flat Iron Steak, and me the Seafood Trio with garlic lemon prawns, peppered scallops and candied Arctic char. With a couple of glasses of British Columbia wines suggested by our knowledgeable waiter, it was exactly the experience we wanted to set the tone for the weekend.
In the morning light we could much better appreciate how much our beautiful 30th floor corner room at the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel would add to our experience. At all hours, even when the weather got misty, the view was spectacular, and the amenities included everything we expect of a fine hotel.
For all three breakfasts over the weekend, we kept it simple and went to the hotel’s Showcase Restaurant, choosing the buffet the first day, and a la carte the next two mornings. On the first morning, I took the photo below from our table. We don’t have towers at home, and it doesn’t embarrass me to look like a tourist. With my passion for seeing the world through a lens, I often look like a tourist even when I’m at home.
After breakfast the first morning, one of my nieces who lives in Vancouver, Sari, came and picked us up, and we went to the Vancouver Aquarium for a few hours. All 3 of us thoroughly enjoy aquariums, and as both Sari and I are scuba divers, going on Divers Weekend was a big bonus. Not only did we get in half price by showing our PADI certification cards, there were some excellent informational tables set up by dive-related businesses and organizations.
After having a good look around, it was time for food again. The next stop was the Prospect Point Cafe, where we all agreed that the food quality was very good, and the view across the Lions Gate Bridge is, of course, spectacular. Vancouverites have a well deserved reputation as show-offs this time of year, and Sari couldn’t resist taking us to see the first cherry blossoms at the Teahouse in Stanley Park.
We had picked Saturday night as the main dining event of the weekend, and had made reservations at Chambar Restaurant. I didn’t know much about it other than that it has an excellent reputation for fine dining, but was immediately captivated by the way the old warehouse has been renovated (I love old buildings). While it looks from the entrance to be very small, the rooms keep going on and on. The Dine Out menu was prix fixe at $38 – Cathy chose the Canard aux marrons, which is spiced rubbed duck breast, wild berry, chestnut hummus, pistachios and sauce bigarade, while I had the Moules Frites Vin Blanc, consisting of mussels, white wine, butter, braised celery & leeks, and coarse black pepper. The food quality was excellent, and it was once again paired with some fine BC wines. While we knew in advance that we only had the table for an hour and half and our waiter reiterated that, we were actually there much longer, as the restaurant was crowded and the kitchen seemed a bit overwhelmed – the quality definitely did not suffer at all, though. The next photo shows the view from our table – having our departure delayed was not a problem.
The view from our hotel room just before 8am hinted that the weather forecast for some sunshine might come true, and we prepared to walk a few kilometres along the waterfront and into Stanley Park.
Vancouver does many things notably well, and the quality of the public art is certainly on the list with the wonderfully varied water features, and the extensive use of glass in buildings. Liz Magor’s 2004 piece Lightshed, located on the seawall at Coal Harbour, is one that I particularly enjoy.
While it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the scale and quantity of sights downtown, I love seeing the little things as well, like these tree rings, and reading the dedication inscriptions on the many benches along the seawall.
We walked into Stanley Park, stopped to study the totem poles at Brockton Point, then continued on to a good vantage point to bask in the warm sun and watch a bit of the action in the busy harbour.
Photography has been one of my major passions for most of my life, and I’ve just started to experiment with HDR (High Dynamic Range) images. Coal Harbour provided a subject that it worked out very well with. A short summary of the technique is that you take a series of shots at different exposures (bracketing), and then use software such as Photomatix to blend them in a vast range of ways.
Heading back towards the hotel, we decided to stop for a very late lunch at Cardero’s, located right on the shore of Coal Harbour. We hadn’t done any research beforehand so didn’t really know what to expect, but the atmosphere was just what we were looking for so even an average meal would have been okay. As it turned out, the salmon burgers we both ordered had huge slices of perfectly-cooked fish – by far the best salmon burger either of us has ever had. Paired with some local craft beer and finished with a particularly decadent brownie, it and a total of 10 kilometres (6 miles) of walking put us in the mood for an afternoon nap with the sun streaming in when we got back to our room.
Monday morning came too soon, but our flight didn’t leave until just after noon so we had a calm morning, and did a bit more exploring before retracing our steps to the Canada Line Waterfront station. Almost 30 years ago, I was involved in the original downtown revitalization project in Fort Langley, and our committee spent a great deal of time looking at “adaptive restoration” projects including the Sinclair Centre. I’m extremely pleased to see that Vancouver is still doing very impressive work in this field, like the MNP Building on West Hastings, seen in the next photo. The last time we were in Vancouver, the old facade was propped up by itself as the foundation was being dug.
The southern section of the Canada Line back to the airport is above ground, so is much more interesting during the day. It’s nice, too, to get a lower fare in this direction – only $4 per person. The photo below shows the view looking out the back window just before the Fraser River crossing.
Although I never mind spending some time at the Vancouver airport, we boarded our plane not long after arriving and were soon in the air headed north. At 12:45, we were high over Gibsons, looking up the aptly-named Sunshine Coast, on our way back to the snow and cold. What an amazing coast that is!
Almost home – back to our fur-kids, and ready to start planning our next adventure(s). In my case, that’s a slightly-modified drive around the Great Northern Circle Route starting in late February.