18 March 2007

Sunday in Vancouver

In the beginning of March, I found myself in Vancouver—the University of British Columbia to be exact. I was last in Canada many, many years ago on a road trip up to Toronto and across to Quebec, but Vancouver is a very different place than those eastern cities with a distinct relaxed vibe all its own. I loved the place despite the cold and wet I endured while I was there; it snowed twice, rained once, and was overcast in general.

Sunday was my free day to roam, and I kicked off the morning with a quick boat ride across False Creek to Granville Island, which isn't an island, but is still called one. Once the water taxi docked, it was only a short climb up the ramp to the Public Market, the main attraction on the island. Considered one of the best public markets in North America, it lived up to its billing with many food stalls, produce stands, and assorted shops to catch your eye.

The mounds of berries on display were like little eruptions of color blooming on the table. I don't know what is it about berries sold around the Western Canadian and American border, but they appear to be larger than your average berry or at least the berries I find here in Los Angeles. I had a similar experience in Pike Market in Seattle—raspberries were the size of half my thumb.

Looking at all the food around me only drove my hunger, which hadn't been fed all morning. By the time I'd settled on a bagel with lox and cream cheese for breakfast, although it was closer to lunch, I was practically gagging for anything to eat. And when H.L. said Siegel's Bagels are considered by many to be the best, I was even more keen for one.

Much to my delight, the bagel didn't disappoint. It was wonderfully dense, but not hard, and deliciously chewy and not spongy. The last time I had bagel this good was when I was still living on the East Coast and making regular trips to New York City. If the bagel is spot-on, then a poppy seed bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese is hands down, bar-none my favorite breakfast sandwich.

There's just something about a fresh bagel still warm from its water bath and wood fire oven, slathered with cream cheese, topped with lox, and sprinkled with capers and red onion that is truly divine, a creation from food heaven. The firm texture of the bread plays against the soft, giving qualities of the cream cheese and smoked salmon and the salty, sharp taste of capers and onion; it's a mouth-feel experience that is beyond words. With every bite of my bagel sandwich, I sank deeper and deeper into a reverie that as of late was lost to me. The last time I had a real bagel, not the bloated blobs they've sadly become, was over 5 years ago—what a happy return.

The walk around the market was followed by a round of beers at Granville Island Brewing. On tap for the beer sampler 4-set: English Bay Pale Ale, Gastown Amber Ale, Kitsiliano Maple Cream Ale, and some sort of Stout, the limited release for the season. In general, my palate prefers a lighter brew, so I naturally liked the Pale Ale and Maple Cream Ale best; yet, the Stout was also interesting and vaguely appealing. It had a pronounced warm coffee flavor with hints of chocolate, so that I could be drinking a peculiar, cold sudsy mocha espresso if I closed my eyes and used my imagination. Maybe I could grow to like it if I drank more.

I left Granville Island lightly buzzing, but there were no worries 'cause H.L. and I boarded a bus for Chinatown where I ate a chicken steamed bun that absorbed any remaining alcohol in my system, giving me clear head and a very full stomach once again.

Vancouver has two Chinatowns—folks who know better please correct me if I'm wrong. I had dinner twice in the newer Chinatown, which I believe is in Richmond, but on Sunday I walked the older Chinatown in Downtown Vancouver. The place is mostly smaller dim sum restaurants and shops selling Asian groceries and dried goods.

After our stroll through Chinatown, it was back across town and over the Granville Bridge to Broadway Ave. We walked a stretch of the street lined with small stores selling all kinds of cute things, window-shopping until dinner.

Dinner was in the neighborhood at a Malaysian restaurant called Banana Leaf. Now it's no secret that I have high standards—notoriously high if you ask some friends—for what I deem good Malaysian food, and my level for edible Malaysian food is only marginally lower. Banana Leaf was all over the place on my tight sliding scale. While it's an award wining, "best of" restaurant, it failed me on a few dishes.

Both the Sambal Tiger Prawns and Assam Curry Fish were too sweet for me not to let it go. Separately, the prawn dish wasn’t anywhere near hot and spicy, although the menu indicated it would be, and the fish curry wasn’t sour when the name itself means so—assam is sour in Malay.

As for the Char Kuey Teow, the noodles weren’t scorched, so it lacked a desired smoky, charred flavor essential to the character of the dish. I liked the Papaya and Pineapple Green Salad with Green Salad with Crushed Peanuts, although it was the least Malaysian dish at our table. It was a well-balanced plate of sour, citrus dressing over slightly bitter field greens. The Tofu Goreng was fine, but what's not to like about fried food.

Dinner was followed by more talk and drinks a few shops down the street at a small Indian inspired tea house. H.L. had a cup of chai tea, which I also tasted because they were giving away samples at the counter. It was a warm, milky blend of strong black tea, smoky spices, and heaps of sugar. I ordered a mango and cardamon lassi which was about as thick as a liquid can get before it becomes a solid. I'm use to thinner lassi, but I couldn't find fault with the taste. The yogurt base was rich, the mango fresh, and the cardamon deepened the flavors of both.

Afterwards, I said good-bye to H.L. and went back to my hotel to wait for H. and his wife B. to pick me up for a nightcap. I ended the evening in Yaletown at Rodney's Oyster House—saving the best for last—where the three of us share 3-dozen oysters on the half-shell and a bottle of British Columbia Chardonnay. While we tried a few varieties of oyster, we all agreed that the winner of the night were the Fanny Bays, a sweet, mid-size oyster from waters right off the nearby coast.

Much has been written in Food Literature about the joy and wonder that is the oyster. From personal experience, I can confirm every word as true. There are few earthly pleasure as glorious as eating a raw oyster. It is a union of taste and sensation that is sublime, pure sweetness on the tongue and fresh coolness down the throat—the essence of the ocean made into flesh. I had my first one when I was eight and have loved them with a faint obsession ever since.

So my apologizes for not having a picture from Rodney's, but sometimes you just can't stop to think to take a picture. Trust me when I say they were good, incredibly so, and exceptionally fresh. Not only did these oysters make my trip to Vancouver, but they make me want to come back again for another visit, and soon.

Siegel's Bagel
1689 Johnston St.
Vancouver, B.C.
(604) 685-5670

Granville Island Brewing
1441 Cartwright St.
Vancouver, B.C. V6H 3R7
(604) 687-BREW (2739)

Banana Leaf
820 West Broadway
Vancouver, B.C. V5Z 1J8
(604) 731-6333
Note: 3 Locations in Vancouver

Rodney's Oyster House
405-1228 Hamilton St.
Vancouver, B.C. V6B 2S8
(604) 609-0080
Note: Website lists a Toronto location

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home