Have you ever been to a dinner party you hoped would never end? That’s how I felt after my first experience with Dine Out Vancouver Festival, the city’s 17-day celebration of all things culinary (on now until February 2).
My partner, Bernard, and I caught a ferry over to the mainland from Victoria on Thursday January 16. We checked into the St. Regis Hotel on Dunsmuir at about 10 p.m., kicked off our shoes, and indulged in a late night snack we’d brought from home (Juliette cheese from Salt Spring Island Cheese and Elysium black Muscat, a sweet dessert wine from California). Content in our small but luxurious suite, the sounds of the busy street far below us, it was a savory start to a gourmet weekend.
Day 1: The Chefs’ Soup Surprise & The Public Market, After Dark
We rose early the next day and hopped a cab to Granville Island, where the 12th edition of Dine Out, Canada’s largest restaurant festival, was about to be launched with a Chefs’ Breakfast and media event at Edible Canada bistro. This year, organizers asked 50 chefs to bring a single ingredient from their kitchens for a “Chefs’ Soup Experiment.” Chefs Darren Clay and Julian Bond from the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts were charged with preparing and serving the mélange free of charge to the public at noon.
After a breakfast of eggs benedict and foie gras French toast (topped with sponge toffee, no less!), served long table style, the chefs departed for their restaurants.
While Clay, Bond, and four of their students were busy back in the kitchen of the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts washing, slicing, chopping, and dicing the ingredients, Bernard and I strolled around the Public Market, stopping to marvel at pyramids of strawberries, cherries, and blackberries at one of the fruit stands.
Then we walked over to the cooking school for a sneak peak of the soup while it was still on the stovetop. “We prepared a vegetable base earlier this morning and kept the meat on the side, so it could be vegetarian,” Bond told me as he stirred finely sliced shitake mushrooms into the milky mixture.
As the noon hour approached, we joined about 75 curious onlookers in an orderly line outside the school. We raised a cheer as the chefs hurried out with the steaming vat of soup. As I savoured the first warming spoonful, I was amazed at how delicious it was. The smoked bacon and chorizo sausage complemented the robust flavour of the mushrooms, while the tender diced yams, daikon radish, and green chickpeas provided colour and crunch. The melting pot of chefs and ingredients was the perfect way to kick off Dine Out Vancouver—and an enticing hint of things to come.
That evening, we returned to Granville Island for the first public event of the Festival. Fishing vessels bobbed at their berths and a thick fog shrouded the bridge spans above us as we waited in line outside the market. Then the doors opened, and hundreds of food lovers flowed into the cavernous building for the inaugural public event, “Plated and Paired at the Public Market.” We checked our coats then picked up a plate and a wine glass (the latter neatly clipped to the plate, leaving a free hand to nosh) and joined the throngs of people wandering the market, sampling appetizers and B.C. wines.
My top-five picks from “Plated and Paired” were:
5. Seared rare albacore tuna with wasabi aioli from Whet Bar, Granville Island.
4. Seafood “lollipop” with shallot/caper tartar sauce from Sandbar Restaurant, Granville Island.
3. Smoked salmon mousse in black sesame seed/corn meal cups from L’Epicerie Rotisserie and Gourmet Shop, Granville Public Market.
2. Vanilla ice cream/chocolate-chip cookie sandwich from Bridges Restaurant, Granville Island.
1. Fortified walnut wine from Langley’s Vista D’Oro winery.
Day 2: Exploring Vancouver’s Gourmet Stores & Rosewood Hotel Georgia
We had a free day on Saturday and decided to spend it exploring downtown Vancouver. It was hard to think about anything but food, so we decided to explore some of the city’s finest gourmet stores. Here are our picks:
23 E. Pender Street
With four stores downtown and four more in the ‘burbs, Ming Wo has been the source for professional cookware in Vancouver for almost a century. For atmosphere and selection, you can’t beat the original Chinatown store—creaky floorboards and all.
377 Howe Street
and 1548 West Broadway
One of my favourite places to shop for carefully curated selections of top-quality cookware and housewares.
The Deli at the Dirty Apron
540 Beatty Street
This popular cooking school is also a great place for lunch (and gourmet specialties to go) in the city’s trendy Crosstown neighbourhood.
That evening, we joined about 80 other diners at a Dine Out Vancouver Festival event hosted by Rosewood Hotel Georgia. “Side Dishes: The Best of Hawksworth” was presented in an elegant dining room above the hotel’s uber-sophisticated bar and restaurant. We were seated at two long tables and served by a team of waiters who bustled around us, depositing each course and its wine pairing. With each new dish, came murmurs of appreciation for the menu created by Chef David Hawksworth: apple beet salad with chevre, walnut, and dill; tender, house-made squash agnolotti; Pacific sablefish with wild mushroom, chayote, and ton yum; and a tangy, citrus-themed dessert of calamansi, crème fraiche, and almond. We forgave the couple across from us for texting their friends about what they were eating—it was that good.
Day 3: A brunch crawl of Vancouver’s West End
By Sunday morning, we’d wished we’d brought clothes with elasticized waistbands, especially given that a four-hour “brunch crawl” was on the menu. On a sunny winter’s morning, we joined a throng of other gourmands at Marquis Wine Cellars, on Vancouver’s rainbow-coloured Davie Street. There, we picked up our “passport” to eight West End restaurants.
Our first stop was Milestones at English Bay, where we were served raspberry Mimosas, prime rib hash, and pancakes. Delicious fare, but slightly problematic: we were already feeling full, and we had seven more stops to make.
Somehow, we forced ourselves to visit most of the other venues along Denman and Robson Streets, which included Buckstop, 1789 Restaurant, WE Coffee, Le Parisien, Just Juice, Central Bistro, and De Dutch. The brunch crawl was a great way to sample the food, atmosphere, and service levels of many different restaurants at one price and within a short period of time. We will definitely be back to check out the regular menus at many of these establishments.
With one last Americano from WE Coffee, our three-day dinner party, sadly, came to a close, but we left Vancouver for home feeling fully sated, appetites whet for future culinary adventures.
Tourism Vancouver’s Dine Out Vancouver Festival runs until February 2, 2014, offering prix fix menus at $18, $28, and $38 at more than 263 city dining establishments; culinary experiences like jazz nights and “brunch crawls;” and special hotel packages. For all the details, visit dineoutvancouver.com