How To Eat Vancouver

Reading in a browser? Click to get this in your inbox every week!

Barbra Streisand Sauce.

Craig and I just got back from Vancouver, where we went to see Daniel Doheny (the star of Craig's movie Alex Strangelove) in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night before crossing the border down to Washington State where we spent a few days with Craig's family in Bellingham.

The last time that we went to Vancouver was in January of 2012 (captured here) and it was so cold and rainy, it was kind of hard to enjoy. This time, though, we had the perfect trip; the weather was gorgeous, the city glassy, green, and beautiful, and the food absolutely stellar. Instead of my usual newsletter format, I'm shaking it up this week and telling you all about Vancouver! (And then I'll tell you about some of the food Craig's family made in Bellingham.)

Three Days in Vancouver:

TUESDAY (9/11/18)

We flew into Vancouver in the afternoon and took the Sky Train from the airport to the waterfront, where we were staying. (There's no Lyft or Uber in Vancouver, so we figured this was the best option and it was incredibly easy and cheap.) We decided to splurge on our hotel, after our friend Daniel (not Doheny) tipped us off to the Fairmont Pacific Rim. This is now my new favorite hotel:

Not only was it beautiful, the people were so friendly and helpful and, maybe because it was a Tuesday and not so crowded, they upgraded us to a suite.

We immediately headed down to the waterfront and went for a big walk. Even though the weather forecast predicted rain for our entire trip, the weather gods smiled upon us and all three days that we were there were mostly sunny (with a little rain that Thursday morning).

After soaking in the scenery, I went back to the room and took a little nap, as is my wont (Craig kept walking) and eventually he returned and we wandered down to the hotel bar for a drink. Craig has a thing for hotel bars and this one was pretty charming, in a sleek sort of way.

Craig's drink, the Vancouver Club (named after the Vancouver social club) was the winner with gin, Lillet, Grand Marnier, and bitters. (Mine was on the right and had rum and fruity stuff.)

That night we went to dinner at NIghtingale, which came highly recommended via Instagram Q&A (I polled my readers on where to eat), and indeed the place was quite chic and fun. Plus, it was right across the street from our hotel; you could see it like a little jewel in the building across the way.

The decor inside felt kind of like a yuppy's hunting lodge from the 1980s? Craig says I should say "urban hipster's hunting lodge." Here's the decor, you decide.

I loved my drink, the Bramble, with gin and blackberries (it had such a cool look).

Overall, I was happy with our experience at Nightingale--it was a good first night spot--though it reminded me of Calvin Trillin's "Maison de la Casa House" in that it was kind of a generic of-the-moment greatest-culinary-hits-of-the-day kind of place. So oysters, pizzas, pastas, you know the drill. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The dish that stood out the most was this hanger steak with onion agridolce, gorgonzola, and horseradish.

The only problem? It was really hard to eat. I'm pretty sure they cut it with the grain, instead of against the grain, so each bite was like chewing gum. But I loved the flavors. So I just pretended that I was Violet Beauregarde from Willy Wonka and I was pretty happy.

WEDNESDAY (9/12/18)

This was our only full day in Vancouver and what a day it was. In fact, Craig described it as "the perfect day." Let's see if you agree.

We started at Nemesis Coffee in Gastown, which came highly recommended.

The coffee was great, but even better were the pastries. Craig and I shared this Kouign-amann and it was so good, he wanted to order another one (he got his own the next day). As you can see, I couldn't even get the picture before someone took a bite out of it (probably me).

We then went on separate journeys through Gastown; Craig to record shops (he's obsessed with vinyl lately), and me to this book store called The Paper Hound that may be my new favorite book store.

Everything about this place was so quirky and wonderful. They had sections for "rodent as hero" (you know, The Wind in the Willows, Stuart Little), "getting high" (books about drugs), "getting higher" (books about rockets). I found some real treasures here, some books I'd never heard of (like Carrot Top) but needed to buy them because they seemed so intriguing...

Lunch that day was at a wonderful sushi spot called Miku, which was one of the more repeated suggestions when I polled my readers.

The sushi lunch here seemed like the thing to get, coming, as it did, with miso soup and a selection of sushi, some of which featured Miku's signature technique of torching the top.

Sometimes when I eat sushi this good for $30 or so, I really can't tell the difference between it and the lavish sushi experiences that cost $200 - $300 that we sometimes go to for Craig's birthday. Blindfolded, I honestly wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Which is all to say that we loved Miku and if you're in Vancouver, it's really not to be missed.

Then, of course, we had to go to Stanley Park and I'm so glad that we did. We just walked from our hotel and the sun came out (again, thanks weather gods) and it was just breathtaking.

We definitely got our exercise in and Craig finally got to fulfill his lifelong dream of seeing a frog on a lily pad. (I'll let you see that picture in Craig's newsletter. Just kidding, he doesn't have one.)

That night, we went to my other favorite meal in Vancouver: dinner at St. Lawrence.

This place was just the best. It's my dream kind of restaurant: unpretentious, tucked away (it's kind of in a no man's land past Gastown), and serving the kind of food you'd never have the time or patience to make at home.

Our charming French Canadian waiter steered us through the menu, recommending a delicious red wine that paired perfectly with the food.

Now while the waiter praised Craig's entree choice of the pork chop, he was less enthusiastic about my choice of the duck. But how could I not order the duck? Look what it came with...

That's ballotine of canard with BARBRA STREISAND SAUCE.

"What is Barbra Streisand sauce?" I asked.

"It's marmalade and duck jus," he answered.

I just had to have it.

But first, we had the most lavish appetizer: a Paris-Brest with foie gras mousse in a red wine reduction with figs that was just out-of-this-world and such a great combo with the wine.

Craig raved over his pork chop entree; it was a meaty miracle with a rich sauce on a bed of what seemed like cheesy mashed potatoes.

My duck entree, Barbra Streisand sauce notwithstanding, was less thrilling, though certainly well-made.

I loved the side dish of chanterelle mushrooms, Padron peppers, and cheese.

Dessert was a simple tarte tatin that really hit the spot.

All in all, I loved St. Lawrence and would recommend it to anyone headed to Vancouver.

THURSDAY (9/13/18)

Alas, we've arrived at our last day in Vancouver. We woke up that morning, checked out of our hotel, left our bags at the front desk, and returned to Nemesis Coffee for more coffee and pastries. This time I had to try the pistachio Kouign-amann; Craig stuck to the original.

We did a little more noodling around Gastown, then wandered over to the Science Museum and took a ferry to Granville Island (it's a great way to go).

Granville's kind of a must-visit on any trip to Vancouver; I know this because we went here last time we went to Vancouver. The food market is not to be missed; the fruit is beautiful, not to mention the meat.

The pro move here would be to get some meat from Oyama Sausage, bread from Terra Breads, and cheese from Benton Brothers and make a little picnic. Being an amateur, I opted instead to just get a Montreal-style bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese. Craig did the same and we ate it outside overlooking the water:

Sticking to the round-food theme, Craig led us to Lee's Donuts where he got a warm honey-dipped, which is actually the most pro move of all.

It's here on Granville that we met up with Craig's parents, who drove up from Bellingham, and Daniel Doheny, whose play we were there to see.

After some fun chit-chat over coffee and tea, Daniel got to work preparing to star in a two and a half hour play and we got to work figuring out dinner. The best choice near the theater was Vij's Rangoli, which is actually in the old Vij's space that was too busy the last time that we were in Vancouver.

The food here was excellent. We devoured our cauliflower and potato pakoras with daal...

As well as the lamb, beef, and lentil kebabs with a tomato-onion chutney.

For my entree, I had the lamb curry which had lots of flavor, though not a lot of lamb. Still, it was good.

Then we hustled over to the theater to catch the play.

Daniel's performance in this was tremendous; I was wiping real tears away throughout. If you're in Vancouver, don't miss it. It's there for a month.


Craig's parents are the ultimate hosts (I sometimes feel like their house is a Bed & Breakfast, they run it so impressively). That's Craig's mom, Julee, rolling out the Johnson family's famous apple pie (recipe here).

We also devoured Julee's raspberry freezer jam made with local berries.

I promised the recipe on Instagram but when I asked her for it, she laughed and said it was the one from the side of the pectin box. Go figure! It's basically just raspberries macerated in sugar, a squeeze of lemon, and pectin. Voila.

We're incredibly spoiled because Craig's parents catch local Dungeness Crab in the summer and then Steve turns them into the Platonic ideal of crab cakes.

And, finally, Craig's sister Kristin treated us to her famous meatloaf (recipe here).

The key is the zesty, homemade barbecue sauce. And also cocaine. Just kidding, there's no cocaine in Kristin's meatloaf.

Anyway, thanks Johnson family for your incredible hospitality. Now on to links and things!

Links & Things.

* Ex-New York Times Critic Says Montreal Bagels Are ‘Like Chewing Broken Glass”, Eater (Having just had one, I can't agree.)
* Beloved Food Magazine ‘Cooking Light” is Ending Regular Print Issues, Eater
* Andrew Zimmern’s Nonstop Road (and Food) Show, New York Times
* Why Make Chocolate Pudding When You Can Make Chocolate Budino?, Bon Appetit
The Best Thing To Make in an Air Fryer Isn’t Fried, Taste Cooking
White Negroni, David Lebovitz
* If you ever spend $15,000 on a meal, please don’t do it at Disneyland (even though this person liked it), Eater
* Quite Possibly Your New Favorite Pasta (Alison Roman), New York Times

Finished Famous Father Girl (the audio book) by Leonard Bernstein's daughter Jamie and still highly recommend it (even Craig, who's not a musical theater queen like me, just downloaded it so he could hear it too). I'm loving that book of Allen Bennett's essays that I bought in Vancouver; I also started reading Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing and it's really compelling so far. The Emmys were fine, if slightly tone-deaf (22 out of the 26 awards went to white people, despite the cheeky opening number about how "we fixed" Hollywood's race problem). Craig wants me to keep watching Versace, but the lake house episode (which was wonderful and heartbreaking) gave me nightmares.

OK, that's all for this week, folks!

Until next time...

Your pal,