Vancouver Staycation

Usually, we are on the road for two weeks this time of year. We haven’t managed to hit the road since moving to BC. Too busy exploring our new world close to home. Not much has changed this year. Earlier this year we booked our petsitter, for a four-day vaycay, destination to be determined. Our choices were limited this year by wildfires still burning in much of BC. We settled on the big city, a 40-minute trip, where we are still very much tourists. We are treating ourselves to four all-star restos, pared down from a list of 40. AND the Hotel Georgia, an elegant, grand dame built in the 1920’s and newly renovated, known for its superb service, downtown local, and an excellent bar.

The day, hot and sunny, marred only by the smoke of new wildfires, and the knowledge of the weather turning to rain and cloud tomorrow has us cruising into the city at our leisure for a late lunch at Meet, a vegan eatery on Main Street.

Meet, very much a homemade hippy enclave features a creative menu showcasing a large “burger” selection, including the famous Beyond Meat patty (unavailable currently everywhere in Canada due to its popularity), coconut bacon, real ice tea, rice bowls and mushroom calamari. A small tv over the bar is playing Little Shop of Horrors.

For starters we shared the sweet-chilli cauliflower fritters, beer battered and glazed with a sticky-sweet tamarind chilli-ginger glaze. They promise to be addictive, and they are. Sweet with a mild heat, well-fried and not greasy.

Rob and I both choose burgers, The Meet for me and The Mighty Mac for Rob. The patties are thick and tasty. Nuts and mushroom are the predominant flavours. The bun is soft and the toppings fresh. Crispy onions on mine add a nice crunch. Rob’s burger came slopped on with a pile of mac and cheese which was tasty enough with what I imagine was a cashew-based cheese. The well made skin-on fries are served on the side with chipotle mayo and a rather dull salad of greens, shredded carrot and beet and little or no dressing.

Meet gets a bit noisy when half full but you can be seated outside if you like. The bathrooms are NOT clean ( have not had a good scrubbing in some time) and almost a deal breaker. Service is slow, so don’t go in a hurry, but if you are looking for creative vegan, check it out.

Tonight we are eating Thai at Maenam, a sister resto to Longtail, a more casual place we have previously enjoyed. We can’t get a taxi at this time of day, so the Hotel Georgia sent their Bentley around to take us to dinner. An unexpected treat for sure.

Maenam in Kits is small, clean, modern and not particularly Thai in design. Seated by a window overlooking a busy, vibrant street, beers are ordered, and menus are oohed and ahhed over. Choices are hard. Finally, despite being momentarily tempted by the chef’s menu, we settle on two appies and two mains to share.

The grilled Thai sausage and crispy rice salad was a lime bomb! So delicious with fermented pork sausage, crispy curried rice puffs, coriander, lemongrass, ginger, fried chillies and limey goodness. The portion size, a bit substantial for an appetizer, should be shared family style as with most of the menu items.

The Thai “tacos” with mungbean wafers and their crisp, light sweetness, were stuffed with Dungeness crab meat, coriander root and young coconut. Elegantly presented with a few flower petals and some gold leaf, I would go back time and again just for these.

We rounded the meal out with 8-spice lingcod, crunchy and caramelized with a palm sugar tamarind sauce and crispily fried basil leaves as well as a classic pad Thai with shrimp.

Excellent on all counts, food, service and clean bathrooms.

Rocky Mountaineer – Day 1

September 2nd.
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.

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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.

RMD1 - Rob 008While 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.

RMD1 - Rob 010Our 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.

RMD1 - Mo Food 001Now 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.

RMD1 - Rob 011Sandy 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.

RMD1 - Rob 013Lunch 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.

RMD1 - Mo Food 017RMD1 - Mo Food 018The 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.


RMD1 - Rob 015We 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.

No bears.



Vancouver Spots

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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.

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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.

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A Diners, Drive-ins and Dives recommendation, Peaceful Restaurant, is on tap for lunch after an amazing morning strolling through the Granville Public Market and The Chinese Gardens in Chinatown.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Vancouver Arrival!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.