Vancouver Report 2: Food

As of Friday we didn’t really have any firm plans on where to eat. It’s always tempting to go to old favorites like Tojo’s or Rasputin but we also like trying new places and Vancouver has so many to choose from. I did some research in the afternoon and left Seattle with a post-it note in my pocket with some dining options. I specifically looked for a place that’d be open late on Friday, since we were going to leave late and not arrive arrive until 10 or so. My first choice was a Spanish place called La Bodega (a name I’m sure other New Yorkers also find funny). This is a tapas place that’s apparently 37 years old, pre-dating Vancouver’s “small plates” revolution by several decades. Getting a table late was not a problem, so we hunkered down with some sangria and checked out the menu. We ended up ordering the plato variedo (a selection of cold tapas that included ceviche, mussels, pate, jamon, and a smoky and delicious chorizo I could have eaten a lot more of), hidago de pollo (chicken livers in a cream sauce), alcachofas vinagreta (baby artichokes in a vinagrette), pimientos al cabrales (roasted pimentos in a blue cheese dressing), and a daily squid special. It was all tasty but the squid was the winner. It was extremely tender squid cooked in rice and served with a sauce made of its own ink. I would go back to La Bodega for that dish alone.

Saturday night my plan was to try out Vij’s, an Indian restaurant I’ve heard a lot about. They do not take reservations, so you just have to show up and hope you can get a table. I had wanted to get there as close to opening as possible, but by the time I got back from Trumpeter Salute and got ready for dinner it was nearly 7. On arrival we had to go through the restaurant to the small bar at the back and fight through the crowd to talk to the keeper of the list. We were told it was a two and a half hour wait. Ouch. As we had no other plans for the night, we decided we could amuse ourselves elsewhere while we waited, so we put our names on the list. We walked down the street to a place called the Red Door, which seemed kind of like a Canadian PF Changs. We figured we’d have drinks and a couple of appetizers to tide us over until dinner. They gave us a table on the condition that we be done by 8, as they needed it for a reservation. We said it wouldn’t be a problem as we were not having a full dinner there. We did not count on their hectic kitchen and overwhelmed staff. We ordered some salt and pepper prawns in the shell and some lettuce wraps. The prawns came out after a half an hour and then we waited. We could see the kitchen from our table and it was chaos. No surprise then that our lettuce wraps didn’t come out until 7:55. The hostess did come to reassure us that we could stay as long as liked, as they found another table for the reservation. We left around 8:30 and checked in at Vij’s. They told us to come back in half an hour so, so we walked down the street to a Chapters and browsed books for awhile. I always like checking out the history section of Canadian bookstores because it has many titles you’ll just never see. I resisted the urge to buy a book about the Canadian experience in the Italian campaign of WWII and returned to Vij’s at the appointed hour. We were seated about 15 minutes later. At last!

Now normally if you tell Nik and I there’s a two and a half hour wait, we’ll just go somewhere else. I’m glad we didn’t. Dinner at Vij’s was, quite simply, the best Indian meal I’ve ever had. The contrast to the Red Door was stark. Both places were equally busy, but the staff at Vij’s was much better trained and kept everything running smoothly. Again we could see into the kitchen and I watched the four Indian ladies in charge turn out dish after beautiful dish with a Zen-like calm. No yelling, no rushing, no sweating–just precision and serenity. The food they made was outstanding. We started with a South Indian lentil pate with ginger date pickle and two spoons of Dungeness crab with coconut, cilantro, and candied beets. The pate was more of a spread, but it matched perfectly with fresh naan and was spicy and delicious. The crab was fresh and tasty, and was well-complemented by the beets.

I probably could have left satisfied at this point but then came the main courses. Nicole had the eggplant and papaya curry with black chickpeas and roasted almonds, while I had the grilled pork tenderloin and back ribs in fennel seed, ginger, and coconut curry with cashews. Now I understand that the chefs at Vij are all vegetarians but you’d never guess that from my meal. The pork was perfectly cooked and the curry was amazing. Nik’s eggplant was also great, very tender and flavorful. The whole menu looked fantastic and we defininely want to go back and try some other dishes.

But wait, the tale of Vij’s isn’t quite over; we also had a ridiculous celebrity sighting. There were three guys at the table next to us and they were clearly movie/TV industry people by their conversation (“Juno was lucky it came out in a weak year.”) and the way the staff was giving them extra attention. I kept looking at the two guys I could see but I didn’t recognize them. Then the guy with his back to me went outside to take a phone call. When he came back, Nik whispered to me, “I think it’s the Chairman.” And it was indeed Mark Decascos, the guy who is the Chairmain of Kitchen Stadium on Iron Chef America. Too funny. The staff loved him and many of them came around to chat and give extra tastes of this or that. I can’t really complain though, as Vikram himself (the owner) came to our table three times during the meal to ask how we were enjoying the food. It was really easy to be honest.

Sunday we picked up Kate and had some veggie dim sum at an old favorite, Bo Kong. Then we continued the veggie theme at Cafe Deux Soleils in the afternoon, where we met up with some of Nik’s old Vancouver friends. It’s probably no surprise that we weren’t all that hungry by the time we got to the cafe, so it was mostly coffee drinking and hanging out. We left Vancouver relaxed and satisfied. We always have a good time up there and talk about how easy it’d be for us to live there if we ever had to move.

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