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Vancouver's smorgasbord of cuisines

From pannekoeken to pakora to poutine, the dishes of the world are relished in this ethnically diverse city. Let the eating Games begin.

December 13, 2009|By Andrew Bender

Reporting from Vancouver, Canada — Take your mark.

Get set.

Eat! Vancouver is one of the hemisphere's most ethnically diverse cities, and its cuisine scene is practically an Olympic Village unto itself.

In honor of Greece's role in the Olympics, let's start with Vancouver's Greektown, on West Broadway in the Kitsilano neighborhood across English Bay from downtown.

Part-grocery, part-café, Parthenon sells classics such as keftedes (meatballs), spanakopita (spinach and cheese in phyllo dough) and souvlaki (skewers) from behind glass cases; 3080 W. Broadway, Kitsilano; (604) 733-4191.

Bar food at Kitsilano Billiards, a couple of blocks away, includes souvlaki and saganaki (flaming cheese); 3255 W. Broadway, Kitsilano; (604) 739-9544.

Kitsilano ("Kits" to its friends) has also become a culinary hotbed these days. Celebrity chef Daniel Boulud opened Lumière and DB Bistro Moderne a couple of miles east on Broadway. Next door, the restaurant Thomas Haas, originally from the Black Forest in Germany, purveys such sweets as pear-almond tart and chocolate truffles with fillings from conventional caramel to outré lime-cachaça.

A short hop southeast, in the South Granville neighborhood, Vij's is to India's cuisine what Wolfgang Puck's empire is to California's: stylish, taste-defining places that have spawned cookbooks and packaged foods.

Vij's is open only for dinner, and its "no reservations" policy means even celebrities queue up (locals still talk about Martha Stewart); 1480 W. 11th Ave., South Granville; (604) 736-6664, www.vijs.ca.

I had lunch at Vij's sister restaurant, Rangoli, a modernist space with red tile floors and stainless steel bathrooms where Bollywood videos pulsate from tiny screens. Cauliflower, spinach, onion and potato pakora come with dal and mango chutney, and with lamb in cumin and a light cream curry.

Rice pudding arrived so cold it was revelatory. Even water is served with style in hammered copper pitchers; 1488 W. 11th Ave., South Granville, (604) 736-3701, www.vijsrangoli.ca.

Canada may be officially bilingual, but there's scant evidence of French culture in Vancouver. That said, Café Salade de Fruits, a short walk north of Vij's inside the Francophone Cultural Centre, proudly flies Quebec's gastronomic fleur-de-lis -- omelets, moules frites, steak frites and poutine -- in a greenhouse of a dining room; Francophone Cultural Centre, 1551 W. 7th Ave., South Granville; (604) 714-5987.

Down Granville Avenue (detour before the bridge to Granville Island) is the renowned fish-and-chips stand Go Fish.

Its culinary roots are British, but this counter with outdoor seating and water views also serves fish tacos and New Orleans-inspired poor boys; 1505 1st Ave., South Granville; (604) 730-5040.

Across False Creek, Granville Island Public Market and its food court are prodigiously polyglot and blissfully chain-free. Purchase reasonably priced pirogis, sushi, German sausages, double-wide pizza slices and fresh pressed juices, and enjoy them at the market's indoor-outdoor dockside tables; 1689 Johnston St., (604) 666-6477, www.granvilleisland.com.

Downtown Vancouver's West End bursts with izakaya, Japanese pubs. The interior at Kingyo is like manga meets modern opera, with dissected tansu chests splayed across faux concrete walls. Small plates include ebi-mayo (tempura-fried prawns in chile mayonnaise) and beef tongue that you grill on a hot stone at your table, with yuzu pepper sauce; 871 Denman St., West End, (604) 608-1677, www.kingyo-izakaya.com.

Maneki Neko (welcoming cat) and Yoda figurines top the counter at the intimate student hangout Gyoza King. Classic izakaya fare such as karaage (fried boneless chicken), yakitori (chicken skewers) and butter-broiled asari clams accompany the namesake gyoza dumplings; 1508 Robson St., West End, (604) 669-8278.

Down the block, aim-to-please staff and a contemporary setting make Sura friendly to neophytes of Korean cuisine. Soju (Korean-style vodka; add lemon for a flavor burst) goes well with kalbi and bulgogi (grilled meats) and a small selection of banchan (side dishes), all overseen by a chef from Korea. Even the kimchi is made in-house; 1518 Robson St., West End; (604) 687-7872.

Across the street at De Dutch, clocks are set to both Amsterdam and Vancouver time, and Delft-blue vessels and practical vinyl tablecloths adorn the neat-as-a-pin dining room.

All the better to enjoy sweet or savory pannekoeken from the Netherlands. Choose from dozens of possible toppings for these thin, chewy, plate-sized pancakes; the "Canadian" has fried eggs, bacon, tomato slices and a pitcher of maple syrup (which I give a gold medal to over the more traditional Dutch stroop syrup); 1725 Robson St., Unit 1, West End, (604) 687-7065, www.dedutch.com.

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