One of the pleasures of dining in Vancouver is that there are more options per capita than just about anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest, especially in the city's West End. The rich ethnic diversity of Vancouver's food scene further amplifies the many options, but this plethora of food can also make for a dining crap shoot. I know Vancouver pretty well, and have reviewed a few places already, which you can read by going here. We tend to stick with our favourites when visiting, but during our recent sojourn we rolled the dice on a few places, and here are the results:
This pleasant, inviting bistro on the corner of Comox and Denman has all the elements of a great neighbourhood restaurant: Fantastic beer list (both on tap and in bottle), fresh, locally sourced ingredients, cheerful staff and a stylish, unpretentious ambiance. We were so impressed with our lunch (burger and clubhouse) the first time around, we went back later that evening for a beer and appetizer. The spicy beer broth mussels were superb and paired beautifully with our hoppy ales. The very amicable proprietor, Robert, himself a seasoned pro of the local bistro circuit, informed us that beer is a key focus of his establishment. In addition to the great selection, which includes Phillips and Driftwood on tap, Central Bistro hosts a monthly beer-themed dinner, in which brewmasters come in and talk about the craft and foods are paired with various beers. This bistro is a definite up-and-comer and a great addition to the Denman strip.
We had heard good things about this Malaysian restaurant, which now has three outlets in Vancouver, with another soon to open on Davie Street. My wife and I have both been to Malaysia, so have an experienced reference point for this type of cuisine. I wasn't expecting the spectacular street food I ate in Kota Kinabalu or Penang, just something approaching those flavours, with a Western twist.
Banana Leaf was, in a word, underwhelming. We had the appetizer sampler for two, which was little more than deep fried bits punctuated by a prosaic trio of dipping sauces. One of our main courses (mi goring) featured noodles that tasted like re-heated day old Catelli spaghetti. The prawns we ordered were drenched in a sweet sauce and had the consistency of rubber. The seating plan at this location is small, elbow-to-elbow, so don’t expect a very private, romantic meal with your loved one. All through dinner our ears were assaulted by very loud techno-dance music -- not really conducive to creating a Malaysian ambience. We had to yell to each other during conversation. The couple an elbow away from us actually complained to the server, asking that the volume be turned down, and the server hesitated, then reluctantly said she’d do what she could. The volume didn’t change a decibel after that.
I don’t know what the hype and alleged accolades are based on with this restaurant. I guess Vancouver diners are easily impressed by anything that promises to be Asian and exotic.
On the advice of Central Bistro’s owner, we wandered up to Bin 941, said to be legendary in the Vancouver restaurant scene. We were fortunate to score a couple of seats upon arrival on a busy Saturday night. It’s a small, intimate space that has the casual feel of a Paris café, with lots of motley art adorning the walls.
We had the Flank Steak with cinnamon chilli rub and Beef Tenderloin Wellington; both dishes were exquisite, imaginative culinary works. Even the Bruschetta (with pinenut pesto, gorgonzola, balsamic reduction) at Bin 941 manages to transcend what is normally a very banal appetizer. Our server recommended the perfect red from the bar's excellent wine list. They also feature a couple of solid micro-ales on tap. Service was nearly flawless.
Not far from Bin 941 on Davie is La Brasserie, which on the surface seems to have the elements of a great bistro, but did not deliver the goods during our visit. My French onion soup was a sad impostor of the real thing, and our young server was so spaced out, she had difficulty comprehending our simple order. I suspect we hit this place on a bad night. With so many other unexplored options in Vancouver, I’m not sure it’s worthy of a second try.
One place in Vancouver that’s never a crap shoot is Raincity Grill, steps from lovely English Bay. This is my favourite restaurant in BC, and I’ve had many memorable dinners there, but this time around we tried Raincity’s brunch for the first time. The Dungeness Crab Benedict was excellent and served as a rare reminder of what great, elegant breakfast cuisine can be if done with the best local ingredients by a skilled chef.
For more on Raincity, see my review from last year by clicking this.
Grove Inn, 1047 Denman Street
Contrast the high grade breakfast we enjoyed at Raincity with that of a cheap, greasy spoon a block away, namely the Grove Inn. Granted, you know what you’re getting yourself into when entering a morning hangover place like this, but we got worse than expected. Our omelets were overcooked and had a thick coating of dirty grease, and our pan fries were practically raw, lacking that crispy exterior all good pan fries need to have. This place is a bit confusing as it seems to double as a Japanese restaurant as well as greasy diner. After the lame breakfast we had at Grove, I wouldn’t touch the place’s sushi bar with a 10-foot pole.