So far as I know, I am American. My parents were both born in New York, as was I. And yet, as a friend recently pointed out, both my older brother and I have a thing for Canada. He was a rabid Wayne Gretzky fan, and I, well, I own the Celine Dion album D'Eux.
Last week, after my husband finished up a conference in Vancouver, my kids and I flew up to meet him. It was a whirlwind four days, filled with impeccable manners (not mine), fantastic restaurant recommendations, brisk walks through city streets and parks, and some cool but charming Canadian rain. True, Canadians call their coins "loonies" and "toonies" (no, I am not making this up), and there are 90 Starbucks in the city of Vancouver alone. Ninety. Seattle has 71. Please explain this to me.
We had such a lovely time, and such splendiferous culinary adventures, that I'd like to share the details with you in case you're ever fortunate enough to visit this fine city. (I'll pop a printable pdf at the end of the list for your archival pleasure.)
Here are Vancouver's top tourist and culinary destinations, according to me. Do I know enough to make such confident, sweeping proclamations? No. But here they are anyway.
Stanley Park. With beautiful fall weather on day one, we looped along the park's circular path and strolled beside the boat-flecked water. Go here to marvel at stately totem polls and trees in a riot of deep, autumnal reds and oranges. Like Central Park, but more Canadian.
The Vancouver Aquarium. Accessible on foot via Stanley Park, this is a great spot for families with kids. Make sure to lunch on the fish & chips made with sustainable Pacific halibut. 845 Avison Way, (tel) 604-659-3552.
The Gourmet Warehouse. I can safely say that if you are even remotely affiliated with the culinary arts, you will hyperventilate when you enter this store. 1340 East Hastings Street, (tel) 604-253-3022.
Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks. A fantastic independent bookstore devoted to cookbooks and other food and wine-related reading material, both popular and lesser-known. Hat tip to Dianne Jacob for recommending this place to me, and a big thank you to owner Barbara-jo McIntosh for her very warm welcome. The store sports a small kitchen for tastings, demos, and classes, and I plan to return when my book hits the shelves. 1740 West 2nd Avenue, (tel) 604-688-6755.
Refuel Neighborhood Restaurant & Bar. Thanks to Barbara-jo's lunch recommendation, Denise (more on her in a minute) and I ended up at the bar devouring a perfectly cooked scotched egg with preserved plums and frisee. Watching chef de cuisine Ted Anderson cook inspired me to also order a side of Brussels sprouts. What this says about me I'm not sure, but I'm serious when I say this: she who has not tasted Ted's Brussels sprouts has a big, giant, Brussels sprouts-shaped hole in her life. 1944 West 4th Ave., (tel) 604-288-7905 (UPDATE: UNFORTUNATELY, REFUEL HAS SINCE CLOSED.)
Campagnolo Restaurant. If you like Refuel, you'll love Campagnolo. We did, and here's why: they're both owned by proprietor Tom Doughty, a friendly lad who chatted with us after lunch and sold us on his sister restaurant for dinner. Guess what? This small, stylish-yet-unpretentious Italian eatery did everything right, from allowing us to seat four kids at their own table to the server treating them like adults to bestowing upon us the freshest, most beautifully cooked pappardelle I've tasted in, well, ever. 1020 Main Street, (tel) 604-484-6018.
Subeez Cafe. Another hit, though this one was pure dumb luck. We passed it, we were hungry, we went in. With a very hip, urban vibe and gently throbbing house music, we once again enjoyed terrific, warm service and remembered, albeit briefly, what it was like to be 25. 891 Homer Street, (tel) 604-687-6107.
Granville Island Public Market. What The Gourmet Warehouse is to kitchen accessories, this place is to fresh, local fare. It's the Vancouver equivalent of San Francisco's ferry building, writ large. You'll find fresh produce, artisan meats and cheeses, locally caught seafood, specialty teas and coffees, and much, much more, including a lady handing out tasty samples of Holy Crap. 1661 Duranleau Street, (tel) 604-666-5784
Denise Marchessault of French Mint. No recap of my Vancouver escapades would be complete without mention of my culinary partner in crime, Denise. Longtime 5 Second Rule readers will recognize Denise from this prior post, but for newcomers, I encourage you to add her Victoria-based cooking school to your vacation itinerary. Yes, Victoria is a good 90 minute ferry ride from Vancouver, but it's well worth the sojourn. Can't get to French Mint? Watch Denise make a chocolate-mousse filled charlotte with handmade ladyfingers and sugared cranberries in this video on Eat Magazine's website. French Mint Cooking School, 814 Royal Oak Avenue, Victoria. (tel) 250-294-4500.
Thanks for reading. Now please excuse me while I find a home for these extra loonies.