Have you heard? It’s supposed to be a pretty gloomy week. Not to worry, though, because France. Yup, for us, crap forecasts tend to conjure visions of (and desires for) restorative, old school French bistro fare. The last time it rained we fell for it hard in the form of properly gooey onion soup gratinee (the gruyere cap amplified by mozzarella); Alsatian tart flambee with crispy lardons and fat dollops of creme fraiche; and flavourful hanger steak (done to the rare side of medium-rare) prostrate in a deep puddle of green peppercorn cream next to a pile of salted frites. It was all washed down at Les Faux Bourgeois in the heart of The Fraserhood (where summer is for the weak and patios fear to tread) with winter-generous pours of 2011 Brumont Tannat-Merlot.
Les Faux Bourgeois | 663 East 15th Ave | Vancouver, BC | 604-873-9733
by Andrew Morrison | I was raised, so to speak, on “Spag Pomo”, the ubiquitous Neapolitan bowl of pasta with tomato sauce. My mom co-founded an Italian delicatessen that made fresh pasta for restaurants (my first job), and in my late teens (and again in my 20′s) I worked in a well known Toronto eatery where the kitchen was run by (now) celebrity chef Massimo Capra – he of the immaculate moustache. Spaghetti Pomodoro wasn’t on the menu, but Massimo would table massive hotel pans of the stuff for our staff meal, which was served alla famiglia at the end of the night. Those late suppers with the staff – one third Bengali, one third Italian, one third “mangiacake” (that’s me) – remain my favourite memories of working in the restaurant business. We’d talk shit/shop about the night’s customers, pool a percentage of our tips to buy/share bottles of wine, and refuel the hell out of our exhausted selves with this very particular pasta. It’s the most nostalgic food I know of.
There’s just something so simple and straight-forward about the satisfaction it provides. The balance of sweetness and salt underpinned by licks of spice (chili flakes); the evocative, garden-fresh fragrance of the hand-torn basil; the al dente texture of the noodles; the sharpness of the cheese…I would happily trade a whole lobe of foie gras for one perfect serving of it. And the weird thing is that – despite its seemingly simple assemblage of ingredients – it’s hard to find a good one in Vancouver. A lot of places do a version, but the ones that best approximate the bowls of my dreams are at Lupo in Yaletown and Campagnolo on Main Street.
Chef Julio Gonzalez-Perini and I used to work together many years ago (before he opened Lupo), and he was kind enough to make me Spag Pomo for my staff meals. Unfortunately, you won’t find it on the current menu at Lupo, but sometimes it’s there (if you ask nicely, maybe he’ll make a bowl for you). It’s a guarantee at Campagnolo, where it’s been one of their signature items since they opened back in 2009. Their version is as close to Capra’s (and my own) as I can find. They don’t spice the sauce, but they do provide a little side plate with lines of oregano, dried chili flakes, and parmesan to help yourself with. Use all the cheese, incorporate a pinch of the flakes, and forget the oregano, which would only upset the basil. And buon appetito!
$15 | Campagnolo | 1020 Main St. | 604-484-6018 | CampagnoloRestaurant.ca
Delivered piping hot in an impervious molcajete bowl (made from volcanic stone bowl), the queso fundido with chorizo at La Mezcaleria on Commercial Drive is a delicate but delicious operation. If you bring children to it, they will require assistance. The best way to eat it, according to managing partner Ignacio Arrieta, is to fork it out in coalesced globules (that might burn a hole through lesser metals) and smear it onto the provided tortillas which you then mount with guacamole and squirt with chile de arbol salsa. Pair yours with either a Michelada or a Margarita, and have yourself a very swell evening.
1220 Commercial Drive | Vancouver, BC | 604-559-8226 | www.lamezcaleria.ca
You know when the weather starts to change and you get confirmation of it in a restaurant? You can get yours now at The Parker with roasted turnips, house-made cheese, crispy bread, radishes, and generous spoons of parsley puree ($12) – so simple, strikingly pretty, delicious, and seasonally suggestive. As is the case with so many other dishes currently on the menu at the Strathcona/Chinatown eatery right now (pretty much the entire menu), it was like eating a sunny day in Spring. More plates and a cocktail or two of similar impact below…
237 Union Street | Strathcona/Chinatown | Vancouver, BC | 604-779-3804 | theparkervancouver.com
This good looking Makoto Ono starter dish currently on the menu at Pidgin on the DTES is a wee delicacy of delicacies: exquisite mushrooms, fresh snap peas, ooze-suspended ramen eggs – all set off in the mouth by a soy yuzu brown butter that just doesn’t quit. | $12
350 Carrall St. | Vancouver, BC | 604-620-9400 | www.pidginvancouver.com
It’s not on the “it” list of sushi eateries in town, but as you can see above, the wee little Raw Bar attached to the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s Lobby Lounge plates some awesome stuff. Aim for the oysters, the yellowfin tuna tataki, and the Northern Divine caviar served on tamago nigiri. Our visit came on the heels of the hotel’s recent boast that resident sushi chef “Taka” Omi was now only using sustainable, Ocean Wise-approved seafoods. Did that fact make everything taste better? Doubtful, but it’s also hard to imagine how any of the delicious plates could have been improved. Omi and his crew are wizards with knives, and they get to play with some very fine fish. Pay them a proper visit when your wallet’s fat and your appetite is ready.
Fairmont Pacific Rim | 1038 Canada Place | 604-695-5300 | Website
by Andrew Morrison | Oh, it’s very close. This sublime fellow is a fat bastard of ground tenderloin, ribeye, and chuck flavoured with onion, garlic, and long peppercorns. It’s mounted with double smoked bacon, aged Canadian cheddar, a perfect onion ring, crisp lettuce, and fresh tomato. The sesame seed bun sustains quite a bit of squeezing and juice, and it comes generously smeared with an incredibly tasty ketchup-based house sauce that includes licks of sweet smoked paprika, ancho chilies, herbs de provence, Worchestershire sauce, brown sugar. With a side of hot and crisp-edged frites served with mayo, it weighs in at a hefty $19 and is absolutely in contention despite the high price tag (for a burger). Also in the running for the totally subjective title are the burgers of currency at Pourhouse, Mamie Taylor’s, The Oakwood (the new one), Cannibal Cafe, and Campagnolo Upstairs. Not in the running are the ghost burgers of gluttonies past at Feenie’s, DB Bistro Moderne, Au Petit Chavignol, and Fray. If basic is your bag, try Save On Meats or the internet hype machine known as Hamburger $2.85.
Hawksworth | 801 West Georgia | Vancouver, BC | 604-673-7000 | hawksworthrestaurant.com
A visit to the brand new Basho Japanese cafe at 2007 East Hastings St. today saw a Veggie Lunch Set that blew our socks off. It included a cup of thick yam soup; a delicious, lightly dressed (tofu?) green salad with walnuts; a pickled vegetable, broccoli, cucumber, carrot, and avocado rice bowl; a steaming cup of light and simple green tea; and an assortment of matcha cookies. Not bad for for $10.50! If this is the first time you’ve heard of this place, take a click here or browse through the gallery below.
Basho | 2007 East Hastings | 604-428-6276 | www.bashocafe.com
When a local brewery starts serving waffles with Earl Grey tea-flavoured butter and either Earnest Ice Cream or bacon and eggs, you kind of have to wonder exactly how good we have it right now in Vancouver. Remember where this city’s food and drinkscape was just a few years ago? No food trucks. No distilleries. Very few breweries. Dumb liquor laws. In retrospect, it was a stunted shadow of its current self. We’ve come a very long way.
We scarfed everything above – including the sausage board by Bestie – at Mount Pleasant’s 33 Acres last Saturday, and it felt completely civilized to eschew coffee in favour of a beer sampler served in tidy triplicate (though they do serve some very good coffee from Victoria’s excellent Bows & Arrows). The good-looking brewery is always fiddling around with their snacks. Today, for example, the special item is ice cream sandwiches made with beer waffles. Read that again. To have something close to what we had (ie. something more substantial), you have to visit them on Saturday (11am to 3pm) or Sunday (12pm to 3pm).
15 West 8th Avenue | Vancouver, BC | 604.620.4589 | 33acresbrewing.com
We think it’s safe to say that just about everyone who knew about the coming of The Fish Counter on Main St. were expecting it to serve the very best fish and chips in town when it opened last month. We also think it’s safe to say that that is exactly what everyone has been getting. Salmon, halibut, ling cod, pacific cod, oysters — every one of the options hums in the deep fryer and sings in the mouth with dollops of pickly tartar sauce and generous squirts of lemon juice. The side saddle fries are excellent, too, especially when tarred with malt vinegar and feathered with salt. It’s all Ocean Wise, of course, as the two owners – Rob Clark and McDermid (the straight-faced chef and knife-wielding biologist pictured above) – are the sustainable seafood program’s two founders. Go score a two-piece and be golden!
The Fish Counter | 3825 Main Street | Vancouver, BC | 604-876-3474 | www.thefishcounter.com
Bambudda and the rain are big buddies. Though it’s undoubtedly a very cool thing that the frontage of the eatery opens up to Powell St. in the summer, there’s just something especially cool about how the food coddles in the January wet. The menu reads a little daintily, but the core ingredients are hearty and restorative. Wolfed last night were BBQ duck buns with fried gizzards (1); perfectly plump steam buns (2); lo mein wheat noodles with shrooms and delicious king pea tips – mix ‘em up with the poached egg hidden under the noodle nest (3); more pea tips, because they’re that good (4); and chicken skin with peppered lime.
Bambudda | 99 Powell Street | Vancouver, BC | 604-428-0301 | www.bambudda.ca
Right before we broke for Christmas we slipped back into Railtown’s new Ask For Luigi again to double down on what might just be the best meatballs in town. No aggrandizing truffle oil, no knock-off “Kobe” make-believe bullshit. Just some effin’ meatballs. The addition of golden raisins is a nice touch; real proper old school Italian (more accurately: Calabrian/Sicilian). They give the meatballs a sweet subtlety that – together with the dusting of Parmesan – cools the sauce’s pomodoro tang. If you still have room after giving these a try, head to Mamie Taylor’s in Chinatown where chef Tobias Grignon mixes his meatballs with dates and coriander. It’s more of an Algerian style, but it’s still just a plate of ‘effin meatballs.
by Andrew Morrison | If I had not only a guarantee that dinosaurs were genuinely tame but also solid assurances that their breeding was being strictly controlled by heavily-armed paleo-geneticists, I’d be totally OK about having them back to roam in very small numbers.
I feel the same way about steakhouses. The adoration I had for them as a wide-eyed child of limited tastes has insured a residue of affection still powerful enough to bring me back to them at least once a year. And the more traditional they are, the better. I’ll have none of this Pinky’s “Steakhouse for Girls” or Black & Blue discotheque nonsense, thank you very much. I want a 75 year old server named Frank calmly maintaining my table with an economy of words and actions. I also want to bask in the moody darkness. Not the dumb Donnelly style of darkness seemingly designed to shield our senses from seething ugliness, but rather the type on that rare ethereal plane wherein the act of dining amplifies the scant light provided by candles and the occasional wall sconce. Its faint flame is nearly doused by the dark wood panelling but it still dances off the white jackets of the staff, flickers on the linen, and makes the odd bit of brass piping shine like gold. Such a light also lingers on the serrated blades of over-sized steak knives, bathes in the bowls of big Bordeaux wine glasses that need to be washed by hand on account of their vast brittleness, and takes the creepiness out of the ancient oil portraits staring back at you from the walls. Light is a key facet of the old school steakhouse atmosphere, anchoring the experience even more than the sound-deadening carpet or the refreshing absence of hats.
There are only two exemplars of such light in Vancouver, Hy’s Encore and Gotham Steakhouse. I’ve just eaten at both on back to back evenings. I regret that I didn’t take a camera or a notebook to Gotham, preferring instead to dine like a regular human being (just this once). The steaks were first rate – blackened Chicago filets and strips with crab legs and prawns – and the service was superb, but for the purposes of this story I’m only going to relate how things went at Hy’s Encore.
Hy’s, as you know, has been on Hornby St. since the early Cretaceous. Believe it or not, the decor has actually been “updated” from the Arthur Fishman-designed original (1960′s), but it’s as I’ve always remembered it: dark, deathly quiet, and frequented by corporate Ron Swanson types and old codgers wealthy enough to afford especially sharp dental work. The room’s baronial pretension doesn’t feel the least bit Vancouver-y, and I like that. It’s an absolute escape, like something out of Jules Verne. There’s no stylish bartender holding court with plaid pomp and twirled moustache, no ubiquitous soundtrack or desperately obsequious two minute “quality check” that makes you want to throw a punch (“How are the flavours tonight?” Pow!). It’s just ordered effortlessness, the sort of pampering that has mostly gone out of this world, or at least this city.
The food, as you can well imagine, hasn’t changed that much since I was a child. The Caesar salads and Bananas Foster are still made flawlessly a la minute and tableside [6, 3]. All of the ancient standards are there, everything from $17.95 Are You Kidding Me non-spot prawn cocktails  and slightly rubbery, garlic-wombed escargot  to French Onion soup and boozy Mussels Normandy. They even offer 1,000 Island salad dressing! The steaks are still perfect, only now they are even more exorbitantly expensive. My favourite remains the “house special” Gorgonzola Filet, an 8 ouncer done medium rare (I’m a lightweight, I know) topped with a melted knob of hot, fabulously stinky cheese. I always choose the double-stuffed potato as my starch. The distance between it and say, mashed potatoes is similar to the distance between a piece of red liquorice and a whole Black Forest cake. To wit, the kitchen scoops out the innards of a baked potato and then blends the hot stuff with butter and cream before piping it back into the jacket and topping it with sour cream, bacon, and chives. The combo sets you back $44.95, but did I mention the bread! My god, the bread…
I don’t think the kitchen gives a shallot about molecular gastronomy, craft beer, or charcuterie, let alone “local” and “sustainable” sourcing. Sourcing here is a matter of the back end of trucks and clipboards, not relationships with farmers or artisan suppliers. There is no team of whistling foragers combing the woods for mushrooms, and instead of a rooftop herb garden there is a castle parapet from which, one presumes, the staff are tasked with defending the building if ever there comes a rabid horde of abusive vegans.
And please let that be fine for once or twice a year, because steakhouses are woefully endangered. Granted, not all of them need to survive. Just a few, if you please. No one gave a damn when the graveyard-like West Cordova location of Morton’s closed in 2009. Likewise the stillborn Pinky’s chainlet, which just plain sucked hard until it went away. But if Hy’s were ever to fall, there would be no small amount of weeping, for that would be the end of the dinosaurs, and there would be no resurrections.
Hy’s Encore | 637 Hornby Street | Vancouver, BC | 604683-7671 | www.hyssteakhouse.com