June 3, 2014
Better late than never…. I left Vancouver a week ago, but somehow I never got around to putting my meals down on paper. Which is a shame, because it's a great place to eat.
The first night we went to the very what's happening Bao Bei in Chinatown. I guess it's Vancouver's version of Mission Chinese, a hip young place with a modern menu in the heart of an old-fashioned Chinatown. They take no reservations; the lines are long.
The dish I remember with the most longing – I'm sitting on a train as I write this, and I would give anything to have that shao bing at the top – was a large sesame-studded flatbread stuffed with pickled red onions, chiles, cilantro and tender, pungent, cumin-scented lamb. A truly great sandwich.
The meal began with these vegetables. Lovely little Sichuan pickles. And eggplant marinated in soy, garlic and ginger.
Then there was this bowl of very intense cold noodles, topped with rare strips of beef and tossed with a pungent dressing made of chiles, Sichuan peppercorns and dried shrimp.
Shrimp dumplings. And ethereal pork and prawn wontons in an intensely curried broth.
Traditional, but very delicious: pea shoots.
The next night there was dinner at Hawksworth, the city's most ambitious restaurant. It's a pretty place with a huge, bustling kitchen. I find it fascinating that for all its aspirations – this kitchen is aiming for the stars – Vancouver's fanciest restaurant has a very casual vibe.
But there is nothing casual about the food. These crisply fried oysters are served on a plank of wood with an austere dusting of powdered malt vinegar. The contrasting polka dot is piquillo pepper paste. A fine way to begin a meal.
An endlessly appealing play of textures, temperatures and flavors. Hamachi sashimi in a tangle of radishes and herbs is sparked with jalapeno and kissed with passion fruit seeds. On top, a few grains of crisped rice add crunch. Underneath, a shimmering blanket of white soy. Over it all, the icy surprise of coconut sorbet. Fantastic!
It's spotted prawn season. These were gorgeously cooked, lightly dressed, utterly irresistible.
Sturgeon, a sturdy, tasty, difficult fish, grilled with tandoori spices in a spiral of cauliflower puree. On the side, a little panisse of chickpeas. What you can't see is the piquant tamarind vinaigrette that underlined all the flavors and pulled them together.
I'm not big on plates composed like this – they always look so twee – but this was a perfect little chunk of duck: flesh rare, skin crackling, flavor intense. It was crowned by a small circle of complementary flavors.
Love the look of this – like something washed up on the sands of a deserted isle. The flavors, however, are very much of this earth: spiced apple, hazelnut, maple. It made a fine farewell to a great city.
Can't wait to go back.
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