Saturday, March 22, 2014

Things I love about Vancouver (and Whistler)

For the past 5 plus years I have been dying to visit the Pacific Northwest.  I hear such amazing things (including lots of great things about the restaurant scenes) about Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.  Luckily my mom decided we were going to go skiing in Whistler this year, which meant that we could spend a few days in Vancouver before or after the trip.  Our only real goals for Vancouver were to wander around the city and eat some really good food.  Alex's cousins Rachel and Jacob recommended a restaurant called Salt Tasting Room for meats, cheese and wine (pictured above) so I made reservations there for our first meal in the city.  After that I wanted Asian food and seafood.  I knew that the Asian food in Vancouver was supposed to be some of the best Asian food outside of Asia, but I had no idea just how true that was until we got there.  We had three Asian meals while in Vancouver - two upscale Chinese meals and one more low key Vietnamese meal at a restaurant across the street from our hotel.  We also tried one night to eat at a Cambodian/Vietnamese restaurant called Phnom Penh, but we gave up once we arrived and saw the line of people waiting for a table.  I'm a little bummed that we didn't get to try Phnom Penh because all of the reviews sounded pretty fantastic, but our meals at Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie and Dinesty Dumpling House were also pretty fantastic so I can't complain too much. Our random Vietnamese meal at Ha Long Bay in Downtown Vancouver was also surprisingly good.  New York has surprisingly mediocre Vietnamese food (or maybe I am just spoiled after growing up in Maryland where good pho is relatively common and really good Vietnamese food is just over the border in northern Virginia).  All things considered I would totally recommend all of the restaurants we ate at.  The meats, cheeses and wine at Salt were delicious.  For the four of us (me, Alex and my parents), we ordered three tasting plates of meats and cheese, two salads (a kale caesar that I loved and a spinach, roasted beet and goat cheese salad), two goat cheese cheesecakes in adorable little mason jars and a bunch of wine.  I loved the option to pick a flight of their wines available by the glass - I wish more restaurants allowed you to do wine flights.  Then at Bao Bei we had some of the best upscale Chinese fusion (it's not really fusion but I don't really know what else to call it) I have ever had.  This is what I wish PF Changs was - great flavors, great food, but innovative takes on more traditional Chinese dishes.  All four of us loved the steamed ling cod with mushrooms in a really delicious broth and the "kickass house fried rice" with duck breast.  I also thought the dessert of Chinese donuts (that are called youtiao and are typically served at dim sum with congee or soy milk to dip them in) with a white chocolate ganache and sesame dipping sauce was really good.  Then we went to Dinesty, which was far more traditional.  They had really good pork and crab soup dumplings, camphor-smoked duck (with serious smoky flavor and crisp skin served with steamed buns that they decorated to look like adorable little clam shells) and a fantastic Hakka stir-fry with pork, tofu and squid (all pictured below).  I was a little worried when we walked into Dinesty because it was this fairly fancy Chinese restaurant in a huge mall, but by 5:15 pm the restaurant was jam packed with Chinese friends, couples and families out for dinner so I figured we had to be in good hands.  At one point we looked around the large dining room and Alex and my dad were the only white people there, which is usually a good sign when you are looking for legit Asian food.

More (including more pictures) after the jump!

Beyond the great restaurants we ate at, Vancouver was just a really neat city.  Gastown was adorable and I loved the Granville Island Public Market (which reminded me a little of the San Fransisco ferry terminal and is what I assume Pike Place Market in Seattle is like).  We picked up some salmon candy (my mom was totally weirded out by the concept and refused to try it), some nice little sausages and some tasty fruit there.  If I lived in Vancouver I would go there all the time to do my grocery shopping.  And then there was Whistler.  There is always a lot to love about Whistler - the skiing is great, the restaurants in the village are all pretty decent (our favorites this trip were Bearfoot Bistro for their oyster happy hour, the Brewhouse for beer and better than decent bar food, Gone Bakery for soups, salads and sammies and Purebread for coffee and pastries) and it's just a really nice vacation spot.  And when you get a nice sunny day at Whistler the scenery is just to die for.  It can't quite compete with Lake Tahoe for water views, but it has spectacular mountain views as far as the eye can see.  Give us a few years and we will definitely be back - I can't wait to try more restaurants in Vancouver and ski a few more days at Whistler.


Snowmobiling in Whistler

More Whistler
 Camphor-smoked duck

Hakka-style pork, tofu and squid stir-fry

Pork and crab soup dumplings

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