A day in Vancouver

I had a birthday recently, and to finish off the celebrations we decided to take a day trip up to Vancouver, B.C. – something we like to do every now and again as a change from Seattle. We headed out around 9 am and had a relatively uneventful border crossing, picked up a few important items in South Granville (Lothantique green tea soap, crucial to gracious living) and attempted to get lost in south downtown looking for our lunch restaurant, Fiddlehead Joe’s. Amazingly enough, we found free parking and the restaurant in plenty of time for our reservation.

Fiddlehead Joe’s

I had heard on Chowhound that this place did a great brunch, and it was pretty darn good. The day was blustery, cold and wet, but the big windows looked out to False Creek and the Granville Island Market, the food was good and everyone seemed to be having a good time. I had the salmon hash, which was a sort of do-it-yourself affair with a pile of fried potatoes, a poached egg, a fillet of salmon and a drizzle of hollandaise all piled up together, with a side of sauteed fiddleheads and a roasted tomato. I mushed it all up together and it was tasty. J asked the waiter what was not to be missed, and was pointed emphatically towards the “slaughterhouse special,” which turned out to be a plate attractively piled with meat: bacon, pancetta, chorizo, a small steak, an egg and a roasted tomato.  We drank champagne cocktails and felt happy.

Our next destination was on the north side of downtown. As we walked from the parking garage we passed an intelligently placed sign advertising hot chocolate. Did I mention the day was cold and blustery? We went and had some. It was a place called Mink Chocolates, and they make the best cafè mocha I’ve ever tasted in my life. The hot chocolate was darned good as well.

We then spent a couple of hours happily indulging one of my other passions at The Perfume Shoppe (sorry, not a food link), and emerged, smelling of ridiculously expensive perfume, to find it pouring rain. We ducked into the Lion’s Pub for a drink before retrieving our car and heading to the West End. After some shopping and wandering around in the rain (and a pot of tea at Bojangles, served up with snotty attitude), it was eventually time for dinner.

Based on another Chowhound recommendation, we had made reservations at the Parkside restaurant on Haro Street. Parkside on HaroParkside on HaroParkside on HaroIt looked really promising, with a changing seasonal menu and local ingredients. When we walked in it seemed like everyone except the staff was twenty years older than ourselves and the ambience was rather rigid. We were put at a table right by a window looking into the kitchen (it was frosted, but around the edges we could see the chefs’ rear ends right at eye level). The menu looked good, with a choice of either a 3- or 4-course prix fixe, and a very interesting wine list. We each decided on two starters and an entree, and asked the waitress for suggestions on wine. After hearing our preferences (earthy, full-bodied reds) she suggested a relatively expensive French wine (2003 Château Rollan de By) which did turn out to be excellent. We also got a bottle of Gerolsteiner mineral water and felt happily expectant.

The first course was great. I had a bowl of pumpkin soup, strongly flavored with a fennel broth and adorned with a dollop of mascarpone and some crispy bacon flakes. Want to make me happy? Add bacon. It was lovely. J got the heirloom tomato salad, which was a pleasant but not exciting mix of flavors, with greens and cheese.

For the second course I ordered pappardelle with wild boar ragu. I liked the presentation, with the ragu on the bottom of the dish and the noodles folded neatly on top. Unfortunately, although the meat and sauce were very good, the noodles had no taste at all. They were satin-smooth and nicely cooked, but there was no taste of egg or salt. If there had been any salt on the table I would have showered the dish in it (there wasn’t). J’s dish was a wild mushroom risotto, which had plenty of salt, and we ended up trading plates halfway through. It tasted great, earthy and rich, but I really don’t think they should have called it risotto. The rice looked like regular short-grain that was mixed up with the sauce and mushrooms, and the dish didn’t have the starchy, unctuous mouthfeel that real risotto should have. Strange. But it was all tasty, so we ate it.

I always face the entree in a prix fixe dinner with some trepidation, because sadly, I am a small person with a limited capacity. Our trip to France a few years ago involved many dinners with far too much food, leaving me constantly full and a couple of pounds heavier by the end of the trip. Usually, though, the  portions are scaled back when the kitchen knows that you have ordered a several-course meal, and the entree is generally an artfully arranged modest portion. On this occasion, I had ordered a veal chop with chanterelles. It arrived looking like the kind of dinner you’d want after hiking in the mountains all day – an enormous chop covered in mushrooms in a sea of pan sauce, a pile of frisee and a strange disk that turned out to be celery root and onion held together with fried cheese. I tasted the chop and it was peculiar: apart from being enormous, it had the texture of a beefsteak and no taste at all except for the very peppery pan sauce. Too old? Needed pre-salting? In any case, it was pretty unappetizing. The waitress offered any number of substitutions but I really felt there was no hope for the dish as a whole, and I hated to think of them plating an entirely new entree that I wouldn’t be able to make a dent in. I ate the mushrooms and the frisee and drank wine, and had a bite of the rather nice lamb from J’s plate (a much more reasonable-looking dish with a rack chop, another small chop and some fresh peas).

Dessert did not seem called for, but we didn’t feel like heading home yet, so we ordered glasses of dessert wine (a ruby port and a dark, raisiny muscat), and were pleased that the restaurant comped them. We enjoyed sitting and watching the crowd, and eventually wended our way back up Haro Street to our car and the long drive home. My final impression? Parkside is trying to do something great, but they are taking themselves a bit too seriously and not quite living up to their own hype. We may go back someday, but not for a while. Too many other places to eat!

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2 thoughts on “A day in Vancouver

  1. Lots of nice restaurants in Whistler! And the drive up is stunning. Make sure you wait a while til the road work is completed, then on a sunny day head up to Whistler. You won’t regret it.

    Full disclosure: that’s where I’m from and I’m feeling homesick. 😉

  2. We’ve never made it up to Whistler. Maybe once they finish all the Olympics improvements we’ll check it out. Any recommendations?

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