VANCOUVER, Canada — Although people are still crowding Expo 86 in British Columbia, relatively few appear to be dining in one of the most unusual restaurants in North America--Quilicum.
Downstairs, you enter another world: Carved spirit masks hang on the walls, pebbles and planks form the floor, and low tables set on concrete platforms suggest the interior of a Northwest Indian lodge. The restaurant is small and everything is cooked to order.
'Fresh and Natural'
"We're the only native seafood restaurant in Canada," said Arthur Bolton, who with wife Bonnie Thorne are the Native Canadian owners of Quilicum. "We try to keep as close as we can to the old traditional ways of cooking over an open fire with real alder wood. Everything we use is fresh and natural, aside from herbs the only seasoning is the steam that comes out of the pot."
Out of the pots in the kitchen come such delicacies as smoked Alaska black cod, duck roasted with juniper berries, salmon either poached or smoked, buttered clam fritters and even caribou stew for the adventurous. There is wind-dried salmon to start, smoked salmon, pickled oysters and oolichan-- a small, fried, rather oily fish--a local delicacy.
There are salads with spinach and fresh greens, watercress, and wild herbs; a rich salmon soup; and steamed oysters and clams. If you want to try a little of everything, the Potlach Platter costs $24.50 (all prices in Canadian dollars) for two and includes salmon, smoked cod, caribou, barbecued oysters and prawns. There is also pan-fried red snapper at $9.50 and salmon prepared several ways at $10.50.
"I've worked as a chef in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but my grandmother taught me how to cook Indian food and it is what I like best," said George Ross who is Bolton's uncle and the chef. The bannock bread, a crusty whole-wheat loaf, is one of his triumphs.
"I make the old, country-style blackberry upside-down cake with real whipped cream," he said, urging us to try it, along with whipped soapallalie berries and a cold raspberry soup. The whipped, slightly tart mixture, combined with the sweetness of the raspberries forms the perfect finish to a perfect meal.
Fresh fish is available everywhere in Vancouver--we counted 15 varieties in one market--so the real trick is to find good restaurants that offer something extra. A cafe called the Only has been dishing up fresh seafood since 1912 in a location that has changed little over the years. Fish are still piled high in the windows. Patrons range from bankers and business executives to local residents from the city's nearby Skid Road.
A tiny place with two small booths and a small counter, the Only features fresh fish prepared simply. Coney Island clam chowder is $2.50 a bowl; local, fresh salmon is boiled or fried for $6.50; a local delicacy that should not be missed in season is halibut cheeks for $7.50; a huge portion of fish and chips is $6.50. Major dishes come with freshly made french fries and coleslaw. Not only is the Only a real bargain find, it is just an easy three-block walk from the Expo grounds and is open every day for lunch and dinner.
Another restaurant close enough to Expo to be a dining alternative to the fair restaurants is the Kettle of Fish between the Burrard and Granville Bridges. It is a large placed filled with plants under a glass ceiling--a greenhouse effect that is pleasant when it rains.
The menu written on blackboards changes daily since only fresh fish is served. Most entrees are in the $10-to-$15 range. We tried the salmon and swordfish and both were grilled perfectly. They came with a very fresh green salad with a gin-and-cayenne dressing. The clam chowder had a variety of vegetables in it that might disturb the purist but we thought the effect added a pleasant complexity. A chocolate mousse flavored with oranges and a strawberry flan gave the meal a sweet ending.
There are several view restaurants in Vancouver but our favorite is the Cannery, down by the docks, with a great view of the city skyline and the harbor. The seafood is fresh and the broiled salmon is excellent. Dinners run about $20 to $25. A fireplace warms the cool Northern evenings and a corrugated tin roof covers the chowder bar, which is designed to resemble a weathered shack. Time your dinner here to watch the sun set over the harbor.
Since most Vancouver visitors are attending Expo, our recommendations, based on early research, are to try Praha, at the Czech pavilion, and Icycles, the Northwest Territories restaurant. The Czech restaurant is quite formal and seats only 44 with a like number out on a terrace. It offers native specialties including sauerkraut-and-sausage soup, Moravian roast pork, a Slovakian pasta with cottage cheese and smoked pork, and braised beef in a rich herb sauce. The apple strudel and the Prague cake should not be missed. Most entrees are $9 to $12.