Indian Summer here in Ottawa, sunny but with the crisp of fall hovering on the air. Another great day to check out Ottawa’s food truck offerings. We intended to check Dosa Inc out, but they were very late to their stated location and did not update their Twitter feed. Jake answered my email to apologize. We will try again on the next sunny free day. So, plan B: Urban Cowboy at its permanent location, Bank and Glen streets.
As it turns out, Plan B would have been a fabulous Plan A. Parking, unmetered at this point, can be found fairly easily. Only six people wait in line ahead of us today. Our orders are taken by a friendly fellow outside the truck, who inputs it into an iPad for the kitchen. Rob selects the Belcher Burger Combo (A BBQ brisket sandwich), which includes a drink and a side of Sweet Potato fries. I choose the Shrimp Taco Combo, and go with the Truffled Mac and Cheese to round it out. Josie is getting a treat today and has decided on the Belcher burger with no sides.
After about an eight minute wait, food begins to hit the street and soon we are laden down with good sized baskets and looking around for a shady place to eat. There are not many within easy sight but we managed. We tied Josie to a tree and spread out our picnic.
First off, the side portions are extremely generous. The truffled mac and cheese, delicious and creamy, topped with fresh green onions, satisfies with the first bite. The kitchen uses a light hand with the truffle oil so as not to overpower the delicate cheesy pasta. Rob’s sweet potato fries are tempura battered, lightly salted with sea salt, topped with some fresh green onion and served with Urban Cowboy’s own sweet, tangy aioli. The fries are firm, large cut and not greasy. Quite possibly the best sweet potato fries in the city.
The mains are equally well considered and executed. The brisket burger had a small bakery bun but was packed with thick slices of smoky beef brisket in a sweet, homemade BBQ sauce. My shrimp taco was one of the best ones I have had anywhere, off a truck, or in a restaurant. Sweet, succulent shrimp are piled into a soft flour tortilla with slaw. The taco is the perfect combo of a little sweet, a little heat, and a little crunch. It was so satisfying, in hindsight, I should have forsaken the very excellent mac and cheese for another one of these.
Josie gave me her dill pickle and then polished of every molecule of her Belcher Burger and gives it three paws up. Four and she falls down.
$30.50 for two mains with combos which included canned drinks, and a main, no combo. Highly recommended. The only improvement this truck could make is location and I’m not sure how much of that is under their control. Near a park with lots of seating would be awesome.
It is a glorious hot, sunny day in Ottawa this Friday. Time to take advantage of the city’s new food trucks and carts. Bap by RaonKitchen, a Korean cart specializing in bimbimbap is close by, located on Bank St. between Albert and Slater.
We head on over and get in line with about 20 people ahead of us. The wait, just under fifteen minutes allowed us to soak up the beautiful weather. Three types of bimbimbap are on offer, tofu, beef and chicken. I choose the chicken, advertized as spicy, and Rob gets the less spicy beef option so we can share a bit with Josie.
We snag a nearby, street-side bench and dig in. Bimbimbap, Korea’s national dish and a a meal in a bowl, is characterized by a crispy, chewy, delectable rice with a crust, that forms when serving the dish in a hot stone vessel. I was curious as to how this would be accomplished by a small cart serving takeout. It’s not. The bap, although missing this component is still a thoroughly satisfying rice dish, flavourful, creamy and studded with mushroom, spinach and shredded carrot. The obligatory fried egg topping is added to the dish in omelet strip form. This really adds little to the overall taste. The bap would be markedly improved by adding a whole fried egg although I admit this may be difficult to accomplish given what they are working with on the street.
The proteins, chicken and beef, add taste and texture and round out the ingredients. They soak up the Korean BBQ sauce and spicy kimchi adding to the overall deliciousness of the bap. The chicken bap packs a flavourful chili heat that leaves your mouth tingling for a good ten minutes after. Quite nice. The beef added a meatiness to the overall dish.
$17.oo for two meat bimbimbaps (about two cups of food each) and two cans of San Pelliegrino. I would certainly enjoy this for lunch if I were in the area. A nice addition to the Ottawa street food scene.
A quiet unassuming downtown Calgary Street reveals a gem of a breakfast spot. Diner Deluxe has been featured on You Gotta Eat Here, Canada’s kinda sorta Triple D wanna be.
The diner hosts an ice cream parlour/bakery as you enter. We are here for breakfast so we move on through to a dining room on the other side. Deluxe features authentic items from diners of yesteryear. Salt and pepper cellars, coffee mugs, vinyl chairs and formica-topped. chrome bound tables are mix and match. There are a few kitschy items around such as a rotary phone, lamps, an old toy car or two, artful and not overdone.
Deluxe’s menu, right out of the 1960’s with just the right amount of creative updating, reminds me a bit of Cafe Zuzu in the Valley Ho resort in Phoenix, Arizona. A good read, this menu. Takes us a few minutes to make an informed decision. Our waitress, in sneakers and pedal pushers, could only be more genuine on roller skates. She delivers a good cup of coffee and takes our orders. Crispy fried potato pancake for me, and meatloaf hash for Rob. I make several substitutions with which she happily notes, “No Problem”.
My crispy pancake is a ginormous potato rosti, crispy as advertised and tasty, topped with a dollop of sour cream, fresh green onion and the over medium egg I added. The generous portion of very good “Canadian” bacon, salty and lightly sweet, substituted for the chicken or chorizo sausage choices on the menu, nicely rounds out my breakfast. Fried Roma tomatoes are offered as a vegetarian substitute to the meat on this menu item. I request them as well. This was my only misstep. The tomatoes are lightly grilled and would have benefited from a long, slow pan fry to blister the skins and caramelize the sugars.
Rob’s sublime, red pepper jelly topped slice of moist, well seasoned meatloaf is so good, he only offers me one bite. The generous slice, accompanied by a skillet of potato/spinach hash is excellent on all counts.
We are off on a short road trip to Banff today to see what we missed due to our late arrival via train last Tuesday. A quick trip to the Ladies transports you to 1966. Cut glass mirrors, powder blue commode and sink and an Alfred Hitchcock movie poster leaves you smiling on your way out.
Finally made Calgary last night by midnight. We are looking forward to seeing what Calgary has to eat. BBQ seems perfect for an early lunch. Seafood and snow crab are also featured on the menu. Booker’s, a cavernous joint is our first stop. Sufficiently scruffy outside, slick and industrial chic inside, a bank of flatties lights up the bar, funky art and a Jim Beam guitar grace the walls. Buddy Holly, Johnny Rivers, Elvis, SRV and Clapton echo through the towering space.
We order up a couple of local beers, Grasshopper, a nice refreshing wheat beer and an app of burnt ends. The burnt ends arrive quickly. They are tasty, prized cubes of brisket but mostly fat. Rob says this is exactly how they are every time he has tried them. Two are enough for me.
Our mains, BBQ smoked chicken for me and St. Louis ribs for Rob arrive literally on top of our appetizer. Not sure if the poor spacing was due to a virtually empty restaurant at 12:30 on a Wednesday or because we ordered them after we told her what we wanted for mains.
Entrees come with BBQ standards of corn on the cob and baked beans. Whipped potatoes replace potato salad. My perfectly smoked chicken, moist with smoky pink meat, has toughened skin from the smoker. The Kansas City sauce which lends a delicious sweet heat remedies this. Rob’s ribs are excellent, tasty and well smoked. A good smoke ring balanced by a sweet maple bourbon BBQ sauce.
The beans are homemade, decent BBQ beans. They are not very sweet and don’t appear to have any bacon or brisket added. They are not to my preference and I leave them. The potatoes are bland and unseasoned. They could uses a good deal more butter. On second thought. It’s BBQ. stop being creative and serve potato salad as god intended. The corn is a nice surprise. This is usually a throw away item that does nothing more than add colour to a plate full of meat. Bookers corn is dropped into boiling water for 5 when ordered. Fresh, sweet, toothsome. Not mushy like 99% of other BBQ joints. No bread is served. BBQ demands bread.
Day 2 Kamloops to Calgary or Bust! (foreshadowing)
Rocky Mountaineer makes it very easy for passengers. Instructions are clear and easy. We are to be ready at 6 am. Luggage is left behind in rooms to be trucked ahead and waiting in Calgary. Very civilized this leaving behind of luggage to be dealt with by someone else. Buses to the train are to be boarded at 6:15. Train departs at 6:30. We have a potentially 14 hour day or more ahead. By 6:15, 13 passengers are unaccounted for. By 6:30 the buses are told to depart. We leave two behind. What part of 6 am is unclear?
Leaving Kamloops is much like leaving Vancouver. We move slowly through the ‘burbs to the open rail. Soon we are passing cottage country and the houseboat capital of the world, Lake Sicamous. Mountains hover in the distance. Today we are first service for dining. We spend a pleasant breakfast with Jean, a fellow traveler and Sens fan from the capital city.
Shortly we pass by the mouth of the Adams River, the largest Sockeye salmon run in the world. We are fortunate at this time of year to spot bright crimson kokanee salmon in the shallow waters of the Eagle River meandering alongside the tracks. Kokanee are Sockeye salmon that never go to sea but spend their lives in fresh water.
The landscape is dotted with sheep. Firs, paper bark birches and cornflowers fly by. The lake is alive with boaters. Cottagers wave in greeting to the train passing by their front yards. We pass Craigallachie and the cairn monument erected to commemorate the last stake driven in the railway in 1885.
The temperature drops noticeably as if a ghost had entered the room. A verdant cacophony of green on green comes to the fore. Every shade in nature is represented here. Deciduous trees become more sparse struggling for sunlight against their dark, heavy, coniferous brethren. Firs dip their boughs elegantly, soft blue-green pines and delicate, lacy cedars add layers of texture to the view. Skunk cabbage however adds a less than charming sulfuric nose to the air. Lemony yellow goatsbeard and vibrant orange fruiting mountain ashes lend a little colour here and there.
And we glimpse our first proper mountain…as defined by snow caps. We drift by Revelstoke, British Columbia, a small rail town nestled in the heart of the Columbia Valley, looking up.
Our journey continues along the Illecillewaet, Beaver, Columbia and Kicking Horse rivers to Golden and Kicking Horse Pass. We cross over Canadian Pacific Railway’s Stoney Creek Bridge, which due to heavier locomotive weight was replaced in 1929. No other foundation other than the original could be used so the new bridge had to be built directly over the old one without placing any pressure on the old bridge. Onward to Field. Mountains and aspens and Douglas firs fill our senses.
After lunch we are treated to gorgeous views of waterfalls, snow capped peaks and jade green alluvial waters. Around a bend we come to the striking turquoise waters of Kinbasket Lake. The water takes on colour from “rock flour”, glacial stone that is ground to the consistency of baking soda as it makes is way down the mountain. One of our Rocky Mountaineer crew, Laura, says she passes the lake very day and it changes colour on every visit. Spectacular!
Onward we travel past the Burgess black shale mountains and Victoria Glacier which feeds Lake Louise.
Our train is running over an hour behind schedule. We are approaching the Spiral Tunnels, a series of tunnels that are modeled after the spiral tunnels in the Swiss Alps. This engineering marvel will allow the train to ascend the step grade through Ogden and Cathedral Mountains. A train, more than 80 cars long (today ours is only 23. We added an engine in Kamloops for this ascent) can see itself enter and exit the tunnels and pass over itself. We are slowing to a stop and pulling into a siding to allow a 12,000 ft. freight train, that has lost an engine in the tunnel and cannot make the climb, to back down the mountain and allow us to pass. This and other delays due to rail traffic means we will not reach Banff before nightfall and therefore will miss the spectacular views. This delay is beyond the control of the train company and they make an executive decision to have us detrain in Banff and continue our journey to Calgary via motorcoach. Disappointing indeed, but it is a working railway.
We emerge from the spiral tunnels to magnificent views of the aptly name Rocky Mountains. The steep, sharp peaks are so high that conifers can no longer be sustained and a demarcated treeline is evident. This, the border of British Columbia and Alberta and the Continental Divide, becomes the highest point of our journey. Rivers have been flowing against us until this time. Water will now flow with us as it makes it’s way to the Atlantic ocean, where previously it’s destination was the Pacific.
Darkness has fallen and we cannot see anything from the train. We roll into Banff and decide we will return by car on Thursday. To hopefully see a bear. Maybe a Sasquatch.
This was the experience of a lifetime. A highly recommended way to see Canada’s Western wilderness.
Up early, we scramble downstairs to get our boarding passes for the Rocky Mountaineer. The process is smooth. We board a charter bus and head for the train station. The Mountaineer has its own dedicated station. Beautiful, sunny and clean. A piper pipes us aboard Car Number 12 and friendly uniformed staff wave to us in welcome. Feels like what jet travel must have felt like in the 60′s.
We splurged on “Gold Leaf Service”. Our coach is nicely appointed, spacious and features a clear shatterproof glass top for viewing of some of the world’s most amazing scenery. Staff is gracious, accommodating, informative and funny. Passengers are mostly the grey brigade including a 95 years young gentleman traveling on his own. A snappy dresser with an engaging laugh, he is crossing this trip off of his bucket list. No children on board today. Many accents twitter about among the passengers. We hear smatterings of German, Dutch, English and Australian. And Gatineau French. One of our fellow passengers is based close to home.
By 8:30 we are slowly proceeding through the suburbs of Vancouver. Past New Westminster, shipping containers and rail yards. Very industrial for a bit.
Our train consists of 22 cars and over 600 passengers for today’s journey. The dining car can only accommodate so many people and we are included in the second seating, which means eating breakfast around 10 am. To tide us over we are served a warm cinnamon scone and tea while we roll through scrub land dotted with goldenrod, purple asters, yellow snap dragons, horsetail, rambling wild blackberries and inexplicably, a fully loaded tractor trailer of new vehicles in the middle of a ramshackle farm yard. The views soon give way to the farm belt of the Fraser River Valley. Tree nurseries, cornfields, blueberry “orchards,” hops and the occasional horse or cow. Fellow vacationers follow roadside towing campers.
While today’s first breakfast seating enjoys the gold leaf service, we spend time in the vestibule, an outdoor covered balcony at the rear of our train car. Here we take about 500 pictures of blurry trees whipping by as we learn to adjust to taking pictures from a speeding train. We are entering the foothills. The day is sunny, warm and the air is beyond fresh.
Our view changes to mostly mixed conifer and deciduous trees. We pull over to a siding to allow a coal train to pass. Our hostess tells me that we have the right of way as a passenger train and pay a premium for the privilege, but if the freight train is too long for the siding or is late, we will be asked to pull over. This is a working railway. By day two we will understand that we really do not have right of way.
Now our view shifts to beautiful views of the milky green waters of the Fraser River as it winds by. As we reach Hell’s Gate, the train slows to “kodak speed”, one of the very few times it does, for picture ops. “I believe I have reached the Gates of Hell”, declared wussy explorer Simon Fraser upon first reaching this narrow where more water pours through per minute than spills over Niagara Falls in the same time. Of course, it may have appeared more daunting in a birch bark canoe and knowing that no fine cheese plate and glass of merlot awaits when he returned to his seat.
Sandy rock towers rise to one side of the train. Soft rock is overlaid with hard stone and then again with soft rock. As the soft rock erodes it leaves behind artifacts that are reminiscent of the features in the mountains of Arizona. Striated rock faces in shades of grey rise into cornflower blue skies, dotted with cottonball clouds which cast their shadows blissfully on the hills. Conifers and loose pebble beaches line the cool green water. We get an occasional glimpse of a colourful, graffiti decorated train riding the tracks on the opposite bank.
Lunch is late as we are part of the second seating. The menu is varied with good choices. The food is decent, artfully presented, fine, “hotel” meets first class airline food. This is not a foodie slag. Remarkable for just being produced en masse in a small, stainless steel galley kitchen, the food, mildly seasoned is well suited to pleasing a great many people. There are over 600 passengers from around the globe with varied palates. While we are satisfied and sustained, the food is not particularly noteworthy.
The stoic, spent towers of mulleins line the tracks and begin to mingle with the grey green sagebrush. The yellow-blooming sage presents itself against the backdrop of the fawn coloured hills. I could be in the Nevada desert. I admit to being surprised by the arid BC interior. The larger mountains have receded to the background. Osprey and bald eagles are eagerly spotted by passengers in and near the dead trees they nest in. As we pass a bend in the Thompson River, we spot a herd of Bighorn Sheep.
We continue on our leisurely passage to Kamloops, where the north and south Thompson rivers converge. As the train pulls in to our overnight stop, past homes and yards, we are waved in by two of Kamloops finest on their mounts. Kamloops receives passengers from the Rocky Mountaineer, six days per week, 7 months a year, who comprise the bulk of their tourist and main industry. We are soon whisked away by “chariot” to our accommodations for the evening. Unfortunately our chariot takes issue with hills in a hilly city. Have no fear, our determined driver, backs up and takes a run at it. Luckily the traffic light is with us and we arrive in our rooms, key in hand, already checked in, luggage waiting. Very efficient. This is appreciated because we are exhausted by 7 pm.
We wrapped up our evening at an izakaya, one of several in Vancouver. An izakya is essentially a Japanese pub, serving small plates that are designed to accompany the drinks they serve. Guu Gardens is considered to be as authentic as they come.
It’s hardly a quiet place. The staff yelled greetings constantly and loudly announced the food that was ready to be served. We had seats at the bar and watched the cooks create the dishes with aplomb. Our meal consisted of:
2 jumbo Sapporo beers- essential at an izakaya.
It was a terrific meal and a great way to immerse oneself in the casual side of Japanese culture.
Today, our last day in Vancouver, also happens to be our 29th wedding anniversary. The sun is glorious and we plan on spending the day sightseeing and checking out a few more neighborhoods, notably Davie Village.
Gotta fuel up first. Rob decided on another Triple D joint…on East Hastings! We visited this “quaint” neighborhood last night because we had tickets to see a comedian at the Rickshaw Theatre. Yikes! We made a hasty exit after the show, hoped to find a cab and swore never to return. But alas that all went out the window as we decided to check out Red Wagon Cafe in the light of day. A Streetview Google confirmed it was many blocks from the war zone we walked into last night.
We have been really lucky with parking in the city and scored a spot right in front of the restaurant where we could see the car. I do think our hubcaps were safe here but one never knows. A small crowd was gathered around outside waiting for tables. A young staffer came out and offered around fresh, warm, sugared doughnut holes. This may have kept the crowd from defecting to the absolutely empty Asian restaurant next door (also could have been the no public restrooms, no phones, cash only welcoming sign in the window) but I expect it was more likely the expectation of great food that lay within.
Red Wagon Cafe is one of only 6 Triple D joints in the entire city. We have been fortunate to get to two on this whirlwind tour. After a ten minute wait we are seated. It appears that Red Wagon does not seat two at a four top so a wait can be unpredictable. When we left there were people who had arrived before us still waiting.
Decorated mostly in vintage coca cola chic, the ambiance is punctuated by a few quirky objects d’art such as an industrial sized whisk with a plastic shark caught up in it for added interest. A tiny red Radio Flyer wagon has a home in a corner near the kitchen. Overall the cafe feels homey, well worn and welcoming.
Coffee and water arrive quickly with menus. There are four things at least that attract me immediately, but I settle for the Super Trucker with pulled pork pancakes, pork belly, sourdough toast (rye toast for Rob), home fries and 2 eggs. For an additional charge you can have your maple syrup spiked with JD. Well worth it. Two notes here: I am not a huge fan of pulled pork. Quite often I find it bland, pasty in texture and over sauced. Secondly I rarely order sweet stuff such as pancakes for breakfast. It was more the eggs and pork belly I was after here. Yes I could have had them separately. Not sure what I was thinking. I was, perhaps, blindsided by the prospect of spiked maple syrup.
Food arrives in about ten to twelve minutes. Wow! Looks amazing. The pork belly, thick, not all fat, is crisped up perfectly. My eggs are a perfect over medium as requested.
The home fries are excellent, perfectly tender new potatoes dressed with a little bacon and green onion. A hallmark for a breakfast place for Rob and I are the potatoes. Deep frying cubes of potatoes casts suspicion on everything else the kitchen does — an unacceptable shortcut. Red Wagon’s potatoes are among the best we have had. It’s the little things that show a kitchen’s passion for what they serve.
I taste the pulled pork which is piled on top of the buttermilk inch-thick pancakes before dousing them in spiked syrup. This is the best pulled pork I have ever had, knocking Rob’s into second place. The texture is perfect. Not pasty. A little crisped up on the flat top maybe. Tender, sweet, salty and garlicky with some definite chili heat. This pulled pork needs no sauce. It stands alone. The pancakes are a perfect bed for the pork. Light and fluffy, quite amazing on their own, but raised to another dimension when soaked with JD spiked maple syrup.
This was one of the best breakfast/brunch experiences we have had on the road since Jam in Portland, Oregon.
Off we go into the famous Vancouver sunshine for our final day of exploring. Next up: The Rocky Mountaineer through the Rockies to Calgary!
We spent the first half of the day checking out a couple Vancouver neighbourhoods, Granville Island and Chinatown. Breakfast was a smoked meat-filled bagel from Siegel’s Bagels at the Granville Island market. The market was full of offerings from local providers including amazing produce from the area’s farmers. It was exotic to our eyes and utterly beautiful.
After breakfast, we continued on outside the market and checked out a cute dog and cat place that specializes in home made, baked on the premises dog goodies. Yes, everybody is getting spoiled!.
Chinatown is next in our tooling about. Friday finds the streets full and bustling with shoppers. We soak up the streets as we move towards the Chinese Cultural Center where the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Gardens are housed in an old, tile topped, walled courtyard. The gardens are lush and mossy. Silent and peaceful. Magnolias, bamboo, Japanese maples shade pathways and over hang a pond afloat with lilypads in flower. Koi cruise coloufully under the surface. Chinese structures artfully frame views. As we continue on, we are asked to pay a small fee to center a more manicured garden, hung with classic red lanterns, paved with intricate stone tiles and home to several bonsai treasures. The Gardens are truly memorable.
Peaceful is an unassuming, Northern Chinese hallway of a joint on Broadway. Not technically Chinatown, but Guy Fieri has enticed us away with his ravings over the beef roll here. We find street parking and forget to drop a twoonie in the meter, for which we will pay handsomely later. The restaurant is jam packed at 1 pm this Friday. We are lucky to be seated right away. Hot complimentary red and green blended tea lands immediately on the table. The place oozes 1970 Chinese restaurant ambiance, that is to say, none whatsoever. Clearly, they focus on really good food, not decor. The menu has 49 items on it including soup, noodle dishes and a variety of steamed and pan fried goodies. We would like to try a few things and as we gaze around at other tables, we note that portion sizes are quite generous. We settle on three things to share: Peaceful House Noodles, Beef Rolls and Steamed Pan-Fried Pork Bao Buns. Peaceful has no diet soda so we ask for ice water, which arrives quickly sans ice.
Our noodles arrive first. Delicious handmade noodles bathed in a sweet soy chili sauce, just hot enough for a slow burn and complimentary enough not to drown out the delicate seafood and pork in the dish. The noodles are the star of this dish and are quite unmanageable without cutting up or doing a rendition of Lady and the Tramp if sharing.
Pacing of the dishes at Peaceful is very well done. About a minute after finishing our noodles, the beef rolls are presented. Flaky, pan-fried scallion pancakes are spread with a hoisin and sweet bean paste and then covered with house made roast beef shank which has been braised with star anise, hunan chili, bay leaf, cinnamon, fennel, cardamom, green onion, rock sugar salt, pepper, dark and light soy and cooking wine, and then rolled jelly roll style. They are everything Guy said they would be – crispy, sweet and delectable. They were like beefy, savoury cinnamon rolls — layers of anise-laden beef and sweet hoisin and crispy, scallion-laced pancake. Shortly another couple was seated beside us and asked us a few questions about our meal. Turns out they were also from Ottawa and had come specifically for the beef rolls.
Our final dish arrived. The bao was fine but not spectacular. Heavy on the dough with minced pork inside, served with a soy dip. Minced pork tends to be a little pasty and I’m not fond of the texture. The pan-fried bottom was a tad tough. They were perfectly okay, but not nearly as wonderful as our other two dishes.
With full belly and happy mouth we head back to the hotel to relax before an evening of comedy. And to pay a parking ticket.
Early morning today. Up well before the sun, but not before Scout. Fed the kitties, snuck past a groggy dog and headed to the the airport. We breeze through the long line at security because Rob was the lucky random selection for an explosives swipe. Flights on time, no immigration. Except for the hour, this is painless. Flying within Canada and not crossing into the United States is so much more pleasant. Felt less like cattle and more like a crated dog. We arrive in Van on time, get our rental and we are here! The drive into downtown along Granville Road is pleasant with cedar-lined properties, pretty homes and little shops. Can’t wait to explore the city.
This evening after a little nap we are meeting up with a high school chum, Donna, who has been living out here for twenty-one years now. She has suggested Joe Forte‘s a Vancouver establishment, for drinks.
We arrive at Joe’s a little before 6:00. The place is lively with an after work crowd. An old school oyster and chop house, Joe’s is exactly the perfect place to relax after a long day and catching up with a friend. We luck into three seats at the oyster bar, settle in to watch the shuckers in action, while two cold local Granville Island Cypress Honey Lagers are placed in front of us. The beer is crisp, smooth with a nice bit of body. Perfect compliment for fresh oysters. While we wait for Donna, we check out the menu and the plates being ferried from table to table by white coated waitstaff. If looks are anything, choosing will be difficult. Sticking to local west coast seafood will help. Our waitress informs us that Halibut and Dungeness crab are in season, as is wild Pacific salmon.
Donna arrives and it’s like thirty some years never passed. Conversation is easy and we catch up. I have lots of questions about life on the coast. Winter is coming to Ontario in the next few months and I’m already looking at an exit strategy. Vancouver is really appealing with its fresh seafood and year round farmers markets, excellent Asian food and mild climate. And ocean. And Mountains. And Hockey. And it is in Canada. Van has it all it seems. Now I just have to convince Rob that he wants to live on a boat.
Tonight Rob and I decide to share fresh oysters (because why wouldn’t you?), the Dungeness Crab Cake, Iceberg Wedge Salad and Tempura Alaskan King Crab. We also decided on a half bottle of Kettle Valley 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve. BC wines are harder to come by in Ontario because of unfathomable trade restrictions so we will enjoy them as much as possible while we are here.
The oysters at Joe’s are sublime. Perfectly shucked, sweet, briny. Served with fresh horseradish, cocktail sauce, champagne mignonette and a soy sesame ponzu sauce. The dungeness crab cake came with a fresh slaw and a generous spicy basil-lemon aioli swipe. The cake was lightly fried and heavy with crab. It was for all intents and purposes an excellent cake but I prefer large lumps of crab not shredded pieces so it was not to my liking.
The wedge salad came divided on two plates for us. Cool, crisp and delicious with diced tomato, crumbled bacon and excellent blue cheese, lightly dressed with a mild creamy blue cheese dressing and green onion. This is an old-school item that we are seeing more these days. Rob orders it whenever he sees it on a menu.
The tempura Alaska king crab was probably my favorite offering. Served with an avocado guacamole and a sweet soy syrup, tempura battered and fried, the crab had a nice crunchy exterior – hardly a tempura, but excellent nevertheless – and a sweet, delicate crab interior.
Too bad there are so many excellent places to try in Vancouver and so little time. I would come back to Joe Forte’s in heartbeat.