by Lauren Mote
Yesterday, a girlfriend of mine arrived from Toronto. It was her first time to British Columbia, let alone Vancouver. She was on a stop-over for the night before she would travel to Whistler Village in the morning to visit with her brother for a couple of days.
Being that my friend Melissa is knee-deep into the Toronto food industry, mainly acting as the Sommelier for the Air Canada Centre, owned by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., I decided the only way to show her the city is take her by the hand and let the Vancouver food scene knock her socks off.
To begin the evening, I offered Melissa an umbrella. Out here the umbrella is as useful as it is a needed accessory for every outfit. Did I mention it was pouring?
We started in Yaletown, at George Ultra Lounge. Even though I knew that Nick Devine was no longer Bar Manager and mixologist extraordinaire at this venue (now he’s at the Cascade Room on Main St.), the bartenders still had their island of ingredients behind the counter – mixing, muddling and shaking – really paying homage to the “Devine Cocktail List” still in rotation – that was an accidental play on words but it really does illustrate the originality of Devine’s cocktails.
Melissa started with the Honey Mule ($10), a blend of ginger beer, honey infused vodka, bitters and lime juice. I started with the Ginger Mango Batida ($12), a muddled mixture of mango puree, fresh ginger, lime juice and Brazilian Cachaca – a spirit distilled from sugar cane syrup. Our very energetic server, Brittany, suggests a plate of vegetable spring rolls ($10) as a munchie with our drinks. The spring rolls arrived, stacked like Jenga blocks with three dipping sauces – spicy aioli, soy ginger and house-made plum. Simply delicious, ad surprisingly light.
Our next cocktails were slightly more elegant. Melissa had the Jade Down ($8), a blend of cucumber, kiwi fruit, honey and vodka. I had a similar cocktail called the English Martini ($8). It starts with cucumber infused gin, which is a classic pairing, with pressed apple juice, Pimm’s No. 1 and fresh mint. This was my kind of drink.
We quickly paid the bill, grabbed a taxi, and bolted across the Cambie Bridge to make our 9 pm reservation at Pied-à-Terre, the newest restaurant to join the Parkside and La Buca family in Vancouver. This was a “bistro typique” in the sense of simple decor, simple classic bistro menu, good lighting, great noise – everyone was so close together – tables were blending with each other’s conversations. Such a lovely ambience. I find Angela, a very vibrant server, and happens to be the girlfriend of David, a server that I work with at Lumière. She escorts us to our table amongst a full house of guests.
We place our order for a bottle of 2003 Crozes-Hermitage with the steak tartare ($10.5) and foie gras parfait ($12.5) to start. Both of these starters were recommended by David before I made the reservation, so we were excited to savour the delights.
Here is the problem: the manager comes over before the wine or appetizers arrive. The hood exhaust has shut down in the kitchen. Health laws state the if smoke during cooking cannot be sucked up an exhaust hood, one must cease cooking immediately. So, there we were, having order our main courses of Duck à l’orange ($23) and Beef Shortrib Bourguignon ($22.5) but we are confined to uncooked food only. Damn. We change our wine to a half litre of Domaine de l’Auster Faugères 2003, Languedoc, and anxiously await the arrival of our cold appetizers. Let me tell you this; despite the lack of hot plates, the appetizers were incredible. Hands down the best terrine style foie gras I have ever consumed, and the most velvety steak tartare; they were perfect. The wine was amazingly paired; leave it to Melissa to match solids with liquids so well.
I chatted with the table next to us, a couple of Vancouver foodies, Ami and Diane. We learned Diane was from St. Catharine’s (where Melissa and my partner Johnny are from) and Ami from Israel (who guessed by my gestures and mannerisms that I was either Jewish or Italian – the former of which was correct).
I thanked the staff for their hospitality and said I would be back. The manager handed me a certificate for $25 off next visit to make up for the gastronomical inconvenience. We left shortly there after, craving hot food – and Bin was the answer!
I think everyone from outside Vancouver should see the Bin Tapas restaurant. It’s a fun and flavourful phenomenon. We arrived at Bin 941 on Davie St. and Johnny met us within a couple of minutes. We ordered a nice bottle of Sangiovese, the Flat-Iron Steak Frites ($16), Seared Duck Breast ($16) and the Gorgonzola Pesto Bruscetta ($10), all to share amongst ourselves.
The conversation at Bin was booming… I love that about each place I took Melissa to visit tonight. If you find you’ve done all the catch-up conversation by the time you pay the tab at the first venue, you can always find the nicest people, of different walks of life, and participate in their conversations; or better yet, they will find you.
*also see this story on Hollywood North Report