A few last thoughts on Vancouver's burgeoning dining scene

August 29, 2010


Mussels from Chambar (photo: Steve Dolinsky)
 

By now, you realize I'm in love with Vancouver. The natural beauty, the Asian element and of course, the people, all incredibly friendly to the point my "Minnesota Nice" looks painfully obsolete. ‚ How laid back is this city? How's this: their multi-million dollar Sky Train that they just had built before the Olympics is run on the honor system. Can you imagine Mayor Daley letting you take the Blue Line to O'Hare with the potential of losing all of that revenue? I couldn't believe it. There we were, paying for our one-way ticket to another zone, then just walking over to the sleek subway system, never passing through a turnstile and walking right onto the train. Cool.

I also had a chance on my last day to visit some of the newer restaurants in town, and I came away with the feeling that this city is poised for a foodie resurgence. Everyone in the business talks about charcuterie and beer and offal - all signs of artisanal activity bubbling beneath the surface. Then you go to a joint like Campagnolo, in a run-down section near Gastown, where the junkies and homeless people still wander around, and you have the most delicate salumis and soppresatas, made by the chef, upstairs. Their attention to butchering would certainly merit attention from the likes of Brian Huston and Chris Pandel.



Salumi assortment at Campagnola (photo: Steve Dolinsky)

Just a few blocks away, on the edge of Chinatown, Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie is taking a more modern approach to the cuisine, kind of like David Chang riffs on Korean, and the cooks are making everything in-house, including the remarkable gua bao, which is used for a mini-snack of mantou, containing braised beef shortribs, a shmear of sweet hoisin, a bit of scallion, pickled cucumber and roasted peanuts.


Mantou from Bao Bei (photo: Steve Dolinsky)
 

From their "schnacks" section, a tiny bowl of "crispy fishies" with roasted peanuts and chilies is the kind of snack Bourdain must be eating when he lounges on the beach in Vietnam:


Crispy fishies from Bao Bei (photo: Steve Dolinsky)

But the dish that really knocked me over was their shao bing - a tasty sandwich with all sorts of combinations that I wish some brave soul in Chicago would attempt: crunchy, sesame flatbread is stuffed with shards of braised pork butt (not belly), some Asian pear, a little pickled onion and some finely-chopped mustard greens. ‚ We divided it into fours, but I could have easily scarfed down the entire plate.


Shao Bing from Bao Bei (photo: Steve Dolinsky)

As we mulled things over, and talked about the state of affairs on the local food scene, one of our dining companions - a successful local, independent chef/operator who is barely known outside of the Province - told me that "we don't do a lot of PR in Vancouver, tooting our own horn, like they do in New York. ‚ We just work hard and hope people notice."‚ True, there are very few restaurant-focussed PR people in Vancouver, and I think the Canadian way is to keep your nose to the grindstone, make the best food you can, and keep your mouth shut. ‚ But people have to come eat here. ‚ They have to see them hand-pull noodles and grind garam masala and pull mollusks from the bays. ‚ They have to spend an hour or two lounging at Chambar over a Belgian lambic, while diving into cumin and coriander-flecked steamed mussels, kissed with tomatoes and chipotles; munching on the ƒ¼ber-crisp frites and dunking them into the spiced aioli is a given. ‚ The Winter Olympics are history, but the food world should be keeping its eye on British Columbia - Vancouver in particular - for years to come.

Tourism Vancouver 210 -- 200 Burrard Street Waterfront Centre 604-682-2222 www.tourismvancouver.com

Here are some great things to do with the kids: Vancouver Art Gallery: www.vanartgallery.bc.ca Museum of Anthropology: www.moa.ubc.ca Museum of Vancouver: www.museumofvancouver.ca Aquabus (mini ferry) boat ride -- www.theaquabus.com Capilano Suspension Bridge -- www.capbridge.com Grouse Mountain -- www.grousemountain.com Science World -- www.scienceworld.ca Vancouver Aquarium -- www.vanaqua.org Top 5 Cheap Eats: Granville Island Public Market food court -- www.granvilleisland.com Hon's Wun-Tun House -- www.hons.ca Irish Heather -- http://www.theirishheather.com/www.irishheather.com Japadog -- www.japadog.com Go Fish! -- www.bin941.com