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Sunday, January 23rd, 2005

Feenie’s Weenie

It’s the last day of our trip and we’re both sick of eating out, but we don’t want the awful meal at Le Gavroche to be our last in Vancouver, so we decide to hit Feenie’s for lunch before driving back to Seattle.

Feenie’s is Rob Feenie’s version of a casual bistro and is located right next to Lumière. The pricing for Feenie’s is casual, but the decor is anything but. The front room is bright and cheery with an entire wall of orange and brown tone cushions and a furry white chandelier that I covet. The bar is a lovely, seductive red with inset lighting in the ceiling that glows blue. At the very back of the bar is a room with bamboo walls and a sage green bench seat that stretches across the width of the bar.

Ever since my first visit to Lumière a few years ago I had been wanting to eat at Feenie’s. At that time they were just starting construction on the new addition, but they were already working out the menu. The waiter told us about how the staff had been taste-testing hot dogs for weeks in order to find the perfect one to serve at Feenie’s. I was so jealous. So of course, I had to order “Feenie’s Weenie” (yes, it actually says that on the menu).

Feenie’s Weenie ($8 CAD) was the best hot dog I’ve ever tasted and as I’m writing this my mouth is watering and I have a desire to skip work and drive up to Canada. It was so flavorful and juicy. It was also filled with delicious cheese and came with the best sauerkraut I’ve ever had. It was served with a cone of perfect fries and a tray of four condiments: chipotle mayo, ketchup, herb mayo and sweet ketchup relish.

Zach ordered the Poutine ($9 CAD), which is apparently a popular Canadian dish and consisted of French fries covered in a rich, rich chicken and veal gravy and cheese “curds” (they looked more like melted mozzarella). It was really good, but it was so rich that an entire meal of just that is a little too much. I would recommend the Poutine only as a side dish to be split, unless of course you are Canadian and are used to eating Poutine.

We also shared a romaine salad with yogurt Caesar dressing ($9 CAD), which was delicious and very light. It was topped with a crisp slice of pancetta and a really beautiful and tasty fresh anchovy.

Our bill came to $26 CAD and we left Canada very, very happy.

Saturday, January 22nd, 2005

Arms Reach Bistro & Le Gavroche

By our fourth day in Vancouver we were actually getting a little tired of eating out. We agreed to forgo The List and drive somewhere outside of downtown. We consulted the hotel guidebook and decided on Deep Cove because it promised a “cozy little seaside town” with “lots of great cafes”.

We took the “scenic route” which ran along the water, but the scene was of huge vegetable oil processing plants. After a half hour of driving we arrived at Deep Cove. I think that the most important tidbit of information that the guide book left out is that coming here on a rainy day is basically pointless. It was absolutely pouring down rain and we could BARELY make out the small harbor and couldn’t see anything beyond that. The “lots of great cafes” turned out to be a pastry shop, a pizza parlor, a sushi place and a bistro. Only the Arms Reach Bistro looked open so we went in but weren’t expecting anything great.

The restaurant was very cheery and bright inside, despite the grey day, and I liked that they had blankets at every table so that you could stay warm. I ordered the BCLT ($11 CAD) which turned out to be a really good focaccia sandwich with salty bacon and great Canadian cheddar cheese. It came with a side salad that was shockingly good. So good in fact, that I actually wished I had ordered just a salad—and that’s saying a lot because my sandwich had BACON in it. What made the salad so good was the kick ass tarragon yogurt dressing. I tried to finagle the recipe out of the waiter, but he was really vague and said it was “just tarragon, yogurt and maybe some lemon juice or something”.

Zach had the Chad Salad ($9 CAD), which was also really good. It was a mixed greens salad with gooseberries, blueberries, cashews and a great balsamic garlic vinaigrette. We spent $20 CAD for a very good lunch, but I don’t think I’d drive out there again unless it was a spectacularly sunny day.

After lunch we decided that no matter what we did we were going to get soaked and headed to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Normally, I think this park would be packed, but our car was one of five in the vast, empty lot. We walked up to the ticket booth and found that they give a 20% discount on rainy days, which was good because it was way more expensive than I anticipated ($22 CAD per person), but it ended up being the best (non-food) thing we did on our trip.

We approached the bridge, each holding an umbrella, and looked across—I wasn’t expecting it to be so huge. We tentatively stepped out onto the bridge and felt it shudder; you could feel every step and sway. About 1/3 of the way across, a little kid came barreling over the bridge, shrieking and jumping with excitement. It was cute for the two seconds it took for the motion sickness to hit us. Zach turned to me, pale white, and said he couldn’t make it and headed back. We had a little pep talk and waited until no one else was on the bridge and then hurried across.

The other side of the park was amazing. It had absolutely beautiful walkways and decks with scattered seating in corners of the park—not very appealing on a rainy day, but I could have spent hours here if it was sunny. We picked a path to follow and came across an area that had white Christmas lights strung from the trees. On second look we realized that there was another walkway built into the tree tops. We continued on and came to a shelter area (complete with chairs and a potbellied stove) that lead up to the path in the trees. We were the only ones up there and it was breathtaking; walking among the misty tops of the trees on beautifully crafted pathways that were connected from tree to tree. Zach and I decided that this must be what it feels like to be an Ewok.

Later that night we had a reservation at Le Gavroche which was participating in Dine Out Vancouver—a promotion where restaurants serve a fixed price three-course dinner for $35 CAD.

We got to the restaurant and were seated in the lower room, which kind of looked and smelled like my grandma’s basement. To make things worse, I noticed that the tablecloth had stains all over it and the glassware was less than clean. At this point, I was starting to have my doubts about this place. It was the second night of the Dine Out promotion and the staff looked harried. We found out that we were seated in the room that is normally used for wine tastings, so I suspected that they had overbooked reservations.

We looked over the promotional menu and it sounded really good, but there was also a four-course dinner available so we decided to get one of each in order to taste as many things as possible. The waiter talked up the paired wines (a different one with each course) and told us that they were not to be missed, so we ordered the matching wines as well. An entire hour after we arrived, our meal was served:

Three-Course Meal
Wild Boar Terrine with Onion Marmalade—This tasted very gamey and not very interesting. I was disappointed that all of the pretty sauces on the plate were just for decoration, as they didn’t enhance the food at all. Unfortunately, this was to become a recurring theme.

Braised Venison Osso Buco with Port Orange Sauce—The venison was very tender but the sauce was lackluster, especially for a French restaurant, which I tend to hold to a higher standard when it comes to sauces.

Vanilla Crème Brûlée with Lace Cookie—Everything on this plate tasted burnt. Zach liked it, but he’s crazy about Crème Brûlée or anything that contains caramel.

Four-Course Meal
Duck Rillettes—The duck was okay, but the dish was ruined with terrible stale, stale bread.

Frissee Salad—Zach pointed out that the salad smelled strongly of sweat. I tried to convince him that it was just the vinegar, but he was right; it did smell like sweat. This distracted from the taste, to say the least.

Pork Tenderloin with Trumpet Mushrooms—I liked this dish, but I was predisposed to like it since it contained trumpet mushrooms. Zach thought it was boring.

Profitteroles—This was my favorite course of the night. It had a nice pastry and was filled with delicious ice cream and topped with good quality, warm chocolate.

The whole meal with wines set us back $180 CAD, making it the second most expensive meal of our trip and by FAR the worst. We were really disappointed that this was our last dinner in Vancouver, but at the same time it also made us grateful that we were able to experience so much wonderful food prior to this.

Friday, January 21st, 2005

Bon Ton Pastry, Sun Sui Wah & Tojo’s

We started off our third day in Vancouver in search of pastries and good coffee. We failed on the coffee end, but we found some damn fine pastries at Bon Ton Pastry on Broadway. I don’t generally visit pastry stores so when I do, I kind of go nuts. There’s something about seeing all those delicate and flaky morsels lined up in neat little stacks and rows that really gets to me. I bought a delicious palmier, brioche, a jam pastry, sausage puffs, an éclair, a dozen cookies, a bag of shortbread (for my mom) and a bag of pastry cheese twists. There was a seating area in the back, but you had to order something from the cafe menu, so we just sat in the car and tore into the bags like children eating Halloween candy.

After we got rid of all the crumbs we went looking for a record store that Zach wanted to check out, but ended up lost on the UBC campus. I’d always wanted to go to the UBC Botanical Gardens, so I convinced Zach to stop since we were already on campus. It’s not exactly the best time of year to tour a garden and we didn’t realize they had a Winter garden until after we finished exploring the grounds. It was still a nice walk and I really liked the food garden even though everything was dead except for the heartiest of kale and Brussels sprouts. The garden layout was great and they had beautiful, beautiful espaliered apple and pear trees in all kinds of crazy patterns and shapes—even a square box!

By the time we left the garden and found the record store it was getting late, but we decided to hit Sun Sui Wah Seafood for a late dim sum lunch. When we got there they had stopped serving via the carts, but you could still order from the kitchen.

We ordered the “world famous” roasted squab because it was listed as a house special and the picture on the menu was awesome—a whole fried bird with the head attached and everything. We were disappointed when it came out chopped into pieces. I was even more disappointed when I tasted it. It was way too gamey and tasted like liver (more so than it should), plus the sauce and salt that came with the roasted squab were really awful.

From the dim sum menu we ordered honey and garlic fried spare ribs, hum bow, ha-gow (shrimp balls), shu-mai (meat dumplings), sticky rice and sesame seed balls. Everything was okay, but strangely lacking in flavor. Only the ha-gow were great—they must have used really fresh and well-cleaned shrimp because they didn’t have that musty taste that you sometimes get with shrimp balls. I also liked the sweet and flavorful red sauce that accompanied the dim sum. It was slightly hot and made the otherwise dull tasting food a little more exciting. I noticed that there weren’t any of those little gristly bits that you usually come across in dim sum. Normally I would think that is a good thing, but this meal left me wondering if the gristle actually adds flavor. At $43 CAD this was our most expensive lunch and also the most disappointing.

Later that night we had a reservation for Tojo’s which I, sadly, wasn’t looking forward to because I was feeling a little sick from lunch. Also, I had tried Tojo’s about three years ago and was very disappointed. But Zach loves Tojo’s and he convinced me to give it another chance.

I had made special reservations to sit at the omakase bar where Tojo asks you what you like and then gives you a coursed menu according to your tastes. The bar was jam packed, but also kind of cozy and made us feel like we (and the sushi chefs) were the only ones in the restaurant. It also had great overhead lighting, which assisted me in my obsessive photo taking. (Zach is such a good sport for letting me take pictures of every meal we eat. Most people are not so accommodating or just think I’m weird.)

We heard that it’s customary to buy Tojo a beer, so we talked to a waiter who informed us that Tojo likes Sapporo. Apparently when you buy Tojo a beer you are actually buying all the cooks a beer, so I was a little startled and amused when the whole kitchen staff rushed out shouting “Kampai!”.

Sashimi Salad—An absolutely gorgeous “salad” served in a large bamboo bowl. Very, very, very delicious tuna with a perfect balance of soy, scallions and just a hint of heat.

Breaded Shitake—A shitake mushroom with the bottom side encrusted in golden breadcrumbs, set in a sauce similar to what you get with tempura. I really enjoyed this dish and am going to try and recreate it at home.

Steamed Sablefish—A nice cut of sablefish stuffed with mushrooms and steamed in a clear broth. The fish was a little rich for me, but I thought the broth was great. The best thing about this dish was its beautiful presentation. The bowl came out covered with a sheet of paper, tied up with raffia and garnished with a lime wedge and pine needles that you opened like a present.

Crab Sushi—The sushi was rolled in a crepe-like wrap and topped with bright orange tobiko. It was very light and not extremely flavorful.

Toro Sushi—A large slice of the fattiest tuna I’ve ever tasted. It was good, but so rich and akin to eating straight animal fat, that I think it may be an acquired taste.

Avocado Sushi with Scallop—This was my favorite. I love raw scallops when they are perfectly fresh. The sushi had a wonderful mouth feel with the soft, creamy scallop and crunchy, salty roe.

Rainbow Eel Roll—This roll had grilled eel on the inside and alternating strips of salmon, tuna and tamago on the outside. It was very pretty and fresh, but I wanted the taste of the eel to come through a little more than it did.

Tempura Prawn & Yam Roll with Avocado and Pineapple—I hated this. The sweet pineapple seemed really out of place to me. Even when I poked the pineapple pieces out, the sushi tasted boring and chewy because of the undercooked yam. Strangely enough, this was Zach’s favorite.

Dessert—A simple glass of homemade ice cream topped with some sort of sweet cream and a berry sauce. Good, but not outstanding.

Only three of the nine dishes really wowed me, so the cost of $200 CAD (including three Sapporo beers) seemed outrageous. I would have much rather had two more dinners at Lumière or three more at Vij’s. I am sure to get hate mail for saying this, but I’m going to say it anyways: Tojo’s is overrated.

Friday, January 21st, 2005

Wild Rice & Lumiere

On our second day in Vancouver we decided to check out Wild Rice, which I had read about in Food & Wine a while back. The restaurant was stunningly beautiful and modern, but still really comfortable. We sat at a great, tall table with bench seating in the bar area and got to see everyone’s dishes going by.

We started with caramelized shallot taro smash ($4 CAD) and edamame with soy braised Chinese greens and pine nuts ($5 CAD). I am not usually a huge fan of taro, but this dish was good and the caramelized shallots sweetened it up and made it more interesting. The greens were surprisingly good and flavorful considering the simple ingredients.

I ordered the Chinatown Sweep, a four spiced blend dusted bbq pork dish with east-west stir fry on crisped chow mein ($12 CAD). The spicy and fatty pork was to die for. The only thing I would have changed would be to add more of the delicious sauce to coat the crunchy chow mein.

Zach ordered the Su Dong wild boar (a Song Dynasty recipe), slowly braised in sweet soy, rice wine, maltose sugar and autumn spices with plantain chips on brown rice ($11 CAD). It was heavenly. I didn’t taste much gaminess in the boar; it was like really good quality pork. The sauce was so rich and complex that I can’t even describe it—you just have to go and order this to find out for yourself. The plantain chips were delicious as well, sliced lengthwise and beautifully presented in one end of the bowl like a flower arrangement.

For dessert we ordered the Shanghai road Szechwan scented chocolate mousse-roasted pistachios, mandarin orange segments & bamboo biscotti ($7 CAD). I didn’t care for this at all. The mousse was really bitter and was supposed to be mixed with a sweet liquid at the bottom before eating, which in my opinion gave it an unpleasant slimy texture and a strong alcoholic taste, but Zach thought it was good.

When we paid the bill ($39 CAD), I realized what day it was and felt relieved that we were in Canada for the inauguration. I was hell bent on not watching the news and seeing the talking monkey that we call President, so we went to the aquarium.

I heart the Vancouver Aquarium. I haven’t been to many aquariums, but I have to say that this one is the best I’ve seen. They had really, really beautiful informative displays and gorgeous tanks. When we walked into the Amazon Gallery, the arapaima stopped me dead in my tracks. I’ve never seen such an enormous fish. Apparently at 15 feet in length, the arapaima is the largest fish in the Amazon. Uh, now I sound like National Geographic, but anyways… it was so entrancing that I forgot to take a picture.

They also had a “Treasures of the BC Coast” display which I thought was a really cool idea. Each section of coast had a display area with the typical sea life for that region. After an hour or so, we finally made it out to the outdoor tanks. They had pretty Beluga whales, but they weren’t doing anything interesting. (The last time I saw Belugas was at the Point Defiance Zoo where two males were doing some underwater sword fighting with their penises. It was really funny listening to the adults explain to their kids what the whales were doing.)

We also saw an enormous sea lion who developed a crush on Zach and would bat his eyelashes whenever Zach walked by. I fell in love with the sea otter pup who was so damned cute that he made me want to go to marine biology school. Zach’s favorite was Spinnaker the dolphin who was very speedy and could jump about 30 feet into the air—when there were sufficient treats to be had.

Later we had dinner at the much anticipated Lumiere. I have been talking about Lumiere, pretty much non-stop for the past two years. I’ve never eaten in the dining room area, but I just love the bar. It’s slick and modern and every exquisite dish on the bar menu is just $12. And that’s $12 CANADIAN!

We started out with some seasonal cocktails: I had the salt & pepper highball, which was strangely bitter and full of pepper and Zach had a sazerac, which he loved.

I insisted that we order the Foie Gras Decouverte ($36 CAD), which is a special sampling plate consisting of three different preparations of foie gras:

Foie Gras Boudin Blanc with Truffle Oil—A beautiful and light mousse-filled sausage drizzled with truffle oil. Ooooohh.

Foie Gras Torchon with Cognac Poached Prunes on Toasted Brioche—A rich, dense and perfectly smooth disk of foie gras paired with amazing poached prunes. Aaaaahh.

Seared Foie Gras with Fruit Compote—Foie Gras in its purest form. Incredibly good and delicious with a touch of sweet fruit. I honestly shed a small tear. It was that good.

Zach and I later had this conversation over IM, arguing over who loved the foie gras more…

Zach: when you took the first bite of the foie gras at lumiere, you totally looked like a junkie right after shooting up
Me: um, you did too
Zach: how could you see me with your eyes rolling back into your head?
Me: shush
Me: you uttered words i never thought i’d hear you say
Zach: i say sweet baby jesus fairly often
Me: you’re just as bad
Zach: i know i am
Zach: i like that we have that in common

We then ordered two dishes of the regular bar menu and the special of the day, which was monkfish wrapped in prosciutto with mushrooms and potato puree ($18 CAD). There aren’t words to really describe it except delicious and satisfying. Eating it made me take a deep breath and feel contented and happy.

From the bar menu came sake & maple syrup-marinated with sautéed potatoes and leeks, shimiji, short-rib meat and soy & hijiki broth ($12 CAD), which Zach loved. Sablefish borders on too rich for me (especially after sampling three different kinds of foie gras!), so I didn’t eat much of this, but it was really good.

Last came the Moules et Frites, which were Gallo mussels with lemongrass, ginger, red peppers and chili aioli ($12 CAD). This was fantastic as well and I liked that the lemongrass lightened the dish, but we were way too full to eat much more at this point. Our food total came to $78 CAD, but we definitely ordered one too many dishes—I think you could get a fantastic and filling meal for two for less than $60 CAD.

I love Lumiere, I love Rob Feenie and I love Iron Chef—which is why I’ll buy, beg or steal cable to watch Iron Chef America*, Masaharu Morimoto vs. Rob Feenie on Feb 20 at 9pm. I suggest you do the same.

*Yes, I agree, Iron Chef America sucks and it’s a poor substitute for the original, but I’m praying that Alton Brown makes a better host then the ubiquitous William Shatner (and by ubiquitous, I mean cheesy as hell).

Thursday, January 20th, 2005

Banana Leaf & Vij’s

The Vancouver eating trip begins!

We left Seattle fairly early and there was no traffic at all so we arrived at our hotel, the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle*, too early to check in. We had some time to kill and were hungry so we consulted The List for something nearby. We walked up to Denman in the pouring down rain and ate at Banana Leaf, a Malaysian restaurant.

We ordered shrimp chips ($5 CAD) and roti canai with curry ($3 CAD) to start out. The shrimp chips were giant mutants compared to the ones my grandma usually makes. They were good, but I think they’re best when pulled right out of the hot oil and eaten while still warm. I’ve never had pork rinds (gasp!) but this is what I imagine they taste like, only with pork flavor replacing the shrimp taste. The roti was good, a little greasy and oddly sweet in a good way, but the curry dipping sauce was just so so.

I ordered the chicken satay with gado gado ($7 CAD) and it was the best chicken satay I’ve ever eaten. It was PERFECTLY cooked, with a crispy outside and flavorful charred edges, but still very moist inside. The peanut sauce was great as well. A good balance of salt, sweet and crunchy peanut bits. Gado gado turned out to be a vegetable stir fry which was perfect with the rich peanut sauce.

Zach had the rendang beef ($6 CAD) and it was amazing. It was like a spicy beef stew, that’s cooked all day (in a coconut milk based curry) so it’s falling apart and tender. And then it’s cooked some more so that it’s almost dry and the flavor concentrates.

The place was so cute and cozy on a such miserable rainy day and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Our waiter was really nice (and funny); we asked about a shellacked thing on the shelf that looked like a lobster tail and received a dissertation on ling chi and its magical medicinal properties that our waiter swore by—it cures cancer AND makes you feel good!

Our bill came to $21 CAD, which we though was a great deal considering the quality of the meal—a very auspicious beginning to our eating trip in Vancouver.

When we were thoroughly soaked and tired of wondering around in the rain we went back to the hotel to dry off and relax. I opened the bottle of Veuve Clicquot that I received for Christmas and the tin of white sturgeon caviar I brought from Seattle. The caviar was absolutely delicious—salty and perfect atop blini and crème fraiche. So decadent!

After the bottle of champagne and too many episodes of the Simpson’s, we realized we were hungry again and headed out to Vij’s, my favorite Indian restaurant. I think we arrived after 9pm, but there was still a wait. This was actually a good thing because they have a cute little lounge in the back of the restaurant where they serve nibbles while you wait. This evening it was hot cassava fries sprinkled with cayenne. They were crunchy, sweet and so addictive that I was almost sad when they told us our table was ready.

Zach and I were drooling over the menu when Vij came by to say hello and see what we wanted to eat. We couldn’t decide between the quail cakes with celeriac puree ($10 CAD) or the lemon, cayenne pepper marinated and grilled sablefish in tomato-yogurt broth ($9.50 CAD) for an appetizer, so Vij set us straight and said to order the quail cakes. They were slightly gamey and crisp and perfect with the celeriac puree. Vij also brought us a complimentary sablefish appetizer so we could try it out. It was very good, spicy and bright with lemon, which was a nice contrast to the richness of the fish.

Zach ordered the grilled pork tenderloin stuffed with khoa and potatoes in porcini cream curry with spiced whole almonds ($24 CAD). It was rich and mildly spicy with many great flavors going on. After Zach finished telling me how amazing his dish was I bet him that mine was better. He accepted the wager and lost.

I had the beef short ribs in spicy cinnamon red wine curry with cauliflower & honey parata (like naan, but fried in oil instead of baked, $24 CAD). The beef was, again, falling apart tender and soaked in a beautiful red sauce. It was a little spicy, but also sweet which helped temper the heat. The dinner was completely amazing and seemed like a deal at $58 CAD. We were too stuffed for anything else so we happily went to bed without any dessert.

*A bit about the Marriott Pinnacle: It is definitely a business hotel and is smack dab in the middle of the business district, but we actually found the location to be very convenient. It was an easy walk to many of the restaurants we wanted to try and a quick drive to Stanley Park and the Lion’s Gate Bridge. Our room was quite small and we didn’t have a view, so I called down to the front desk to see if we could change rooms. There was a $30 CAD upgrade for a room with a view, but the receptionist politely told us that the weather was going to be awful during our entire stay and we wouldn’t see anything but fog (and she was right). Normal rates at this hotel start at something like $160 CAD per night and I would not pay that much for this hotel. However, this hotel is a STEAL at the $55 US per night rate that I booked through Priceline.