The Vancouver area has made a strong - and multicultural - beachhead on the culinary map. A dynasty of home-grown chefs has surfaced in British Columbia - men and women who have access to the freshest, finest ingredients the farms and the sea can offer, and they are eager to make their mark. Many have, and more are doing so every year.
In other parts of Canada, with their long and cold winters, the more temperate West Coast is referred to - not without an ounce of envy - as Lotusland. The moniker also refers to the city's tight connection with Asia, which had its beginning with an influx of people from south China more than a century ago and has now spread to include every Asian nationality.
Residents of Lotusland rarely need to push a snow shovel or put chains on their automobile tires. Another reward here is fine food, and like Philadelphia, the city is chock-full of colorful places to dine, including a host of internationally touted restaurants, not to speak of street vendors who sell freshly buttered popcorn to pedestrians sauntering along the beachfront on English Bay.
The most dramatic strength of Vancouver is its Asian diversity. An aficionado of Chinese cooking in San Francisco says, "Chinese food in Vancouver ranks ahead of any North American city and is certainly equal to that of Hong Kong."
Kate Colley Lo of Vancouver Tourism reminds a visitor that the high quality of the food here is due in large part to the respect the Chinese in Vancouver have for fresh ingredients. You can select a fresh fish from the tanks of Asian supermarkets and have it deep-fried while you shop. You can also try the street food in Asian food courts in Richmond, Singaporean curries, Vietnamese pho, Northern Chinese dim sum, ChiuwChow stir-fries, Hong Kong coffee shop specialties or Japanese Yakitori.
In Vancouver, you can easily order a Taiwanese pearl milk tea or head to a Chinese tea shop for a complimentary ginger or ginseng tea (on tap) or be a part of your won private tea ceremony. For the more adventurous, there is even a Chinatown night market where you can brave an exotic snack.
It all falls under the general heading of "West Coast" or "Pacific Northwest" cuisine. Canadians call it "West Coast" and the rest of us call it "Pacific Northwest," grouping British Columbia and Vancouver with Oregon and Washington. Either way, it implies making the most of the freshest and finest local ingredients. And Vancouver has it all in spades.
In all the ink that has been spilled about this inviting city, one salient detail is at times overlooked: the immense variety of restaurants.
The success of Le Gavroche derives from its estimable food, its fashionable situation in a converted Victorian house and a special brand of poise, that form of effortless elegance characterized by a paucity of trappings and an abundance of time. The menu is steeped in the French tradition and is a veritable culinary powerhouse, a collaboration among owner Manuel Ferreira, his chef, local farmers and fishermen. It is also representative of the rise of small plate dining. Think about it over a soup such as apple, zucchini and wild mushrooms. Or pan seared foie gras or truffle flan in an orange compote as appetizers. For entrees, the wild salmon filet Mi-Cuit is perfectly prepared, firm and flaky, and it is served in an anise and orange sauce. The man in the kitchen sears sesame prawns with a wild rice cake for a vibrant contrast.
Watch out for a luscious cassoulette de moules et palourdes, cider steamed mussels and clams with leeks and cream and a memorable Margarita. This is powerfully two-fisted cooking.
And if you're the type who eats meat without putting down your knife, they'll leave a light on in the window for you.
At least once in your life, you must escape to a restaurant such as NU, which blends elegance and sensuality with an enchanting eccentricity. It is sleek, curvaceous and undeniably sexy. Its owners call its cuisine naked and casual. It includes steamed mussels with vermouth, thyme, roasted garlic and pearl onions and frites. Criticizing NU is like analyzing rainbows. Just try to describe the crispy braised pork belly complete with pears, walnuts in a cider vinegar preparation or the navarin of lamb pithvivier with yogurt (minted yet) and roasted vegetables. Locals submit to the sorcery of the resident chef and experience the sensation of having everything that surrounds them perfect. The view from NU feels like your very own private yacht, with close-ups of passing boats and the inevitable seawall bladers. The killer panorama, the minimalist space and a friendly staff make NU a perfect place to unwind.
Eating is not only about consuming food; it is an experience that involves all the senses. Good food makes for a good mood, and combined, they stand for the good life. A dish that is a treat for the palate as well as the eyes is food for the soul, and this city is certainly a destination that soothes the soul.
In the heart of Vancouver's downtown area, the Century Plaza Hotel's Absolute Spa, with Body Buffs and Age Defying Microderm Abrasion as well as a Time Freezing Anti Aging Facial, would be the city's conversation piece were it not for the hotel's tantalizing restaurant, Beyond. It offers a cheery balance of tempered exoticism and Vancouver charm, with a slow braised veal and lamb osso bucco with a white fava and spya bean stew and natural sauces. If you're in the mood, try the hotel's signature whole rack lemon myrtle rubbed whole lamb with braised fennel and seared plum and whipped and fried sweet potato. From its majestic suites, there are panoramic views of Vancouver's oldest areas, such as Gastown, and the stunning harbor.
You need not pack your roller blades to glide through Vancouver's many restaurants at high speed, but take time out for the city's casual happiness. It is so relaxed that every single person who serves you at lunch or dinner will give you a pat on the shoulder and make you feel most welcome. That's what Vancouver and its people are all about.