Vancouver by Sights and Tastes

War memorial outside Canadian Pacific Railway Station

War memorial outside Canadian Pacific Railway Station

Like many of the world’s fine metropolises, Vancouver is an immensely walkable city and one best explored leisurely on foot – something we did on a recent visit.

Nestled between the city’s Convention Centre and its historic Gastown District is Pacific Central Station. From there it’s a short walk to the downtown hotels, where we checked in and dropped off luggage before heading back out for the day. Near the Vancouver Art Gallery we found ourselves caught up in a march protesting the United States’ recent saber rattling about bombing Syria over that country’s use of chemical weapons on its civilian population. Like the arguments for and (mostly) against, the makeup of the crowd was equally diverse and it was an unexpected pleasure to know that others elsewhere felt the same as we did regarding the situation.

Back down at the harbor, we turned left and headed northwest towards Stanley Park for a long but enjoyable sunny afternoon circumnavigating the park via its seawall path. You can rent bikes to pedal your way around, but for us it was a one-step-at-a-time adventure. Working our way counterclockwise, we stopped off at the Rose Gardens, paused again at the Totem Poles, and took a siesta near the “Girl in a Wet Suit” statue while watching a trio of sea otters munching on an ocean treat. On the far side of the park we rested again, this time on the lawns of the Teahouse while looking west across Burrard Inlet. There was a wedding taking place while we were there and it provided for some interesting people watching; however, we’d discover later that we weren’t the only ones watching the event as a thief, apparently casing the event at the same time we were there, stole the photographer’s camera equipment. Thankfully, the jerk was eventually caught.

The nearly ten kilometer outing left us tired and famished, so after freshening up back at the hotel we strolled down to Gastown for a coffee and sequestered ourselves at a table outside Trees Organic Coffee and Roasting House – a place that should further be subtitled “And Purveyors of Delicious Desserts! Go On, You Deserve It!” It was the perfect place to while an hour away as tourists wandered up and down Water Street to the amusement and delight of my camera. It also seemed to be a highly trafficked spot for some of Vancouver’s homeless drug addicts and mentally ill. A German couple was seated next to us sharing a dessert when a female junkie came up, grabbed one of their plates and in a few bites wolfed down what remained of their cake before sarcastically asking, “What… do you want me to lick the plate clean, too?” She then slammed the plate back down on the table and walked away. The couple were speechless. Two teenage boys manning the nearby Hop-On/Hop-Off stand rushed up and proclaimed that they “totally would’ve punched her out” if only they’d gotten there moments earlier. The junkie’s moxie, the Germans’ confusion, the boys’ chest thumping – it was an amusing scene to watch play out as we sipped our cappuccinos.

Bees in the flower gardens at Stanley Park

Bees in the flower gardens at Stanley Park

Around the corner our next stop awaited – Guu Otokomae, with its Japanese izakaya-style dining. A Sapporo and edamame were ordered as starters, followed shortly by Guu’s Crab and Shrimp Dumplings, Enoki Scallop, Maguro Tataki, and their signature dish, the Chicken Karaage. With the exception of the tough-to-chew enoki, everything was delicious and we left full and content, leaving only with plans to return again when we’re next in town.

As the sun slipped westward we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering Gastown; meandering down one street and up another, pausing to window shop, people watch, snap photos and take it all in. Soon enough it was time for our next culinary outing, and so we made our way to Diva at the Met. The décor may be lacking in the Metropolitan Hotel, where the restaurant resides, but the food at Diva most certainly is not. Deciding to put ourselves in the trust of the restaurant’s tasting menu, Kim ordered the Divine cocktail (Beefeater gin infused with pear rooibos tea, fresh lemon, simple syrup, calvados and apple foam, angostura bitters) as a precursor to the evening’s meal while we waited for the courses to start arriving. Two appetizers – an anchoa frita followed by a tomato granita – preceded the first course of the evening: Qualicum Bay Scallop Ceviche with jicama, cucumber, cilantro, and black radish. Next was the Chilled Foie Gras with halva, preserved fig, almonds; then a Smoked Black Cod (olives, tomato, capers, and almonds) followed by Yarrow Meadows Duck (cherry marmalade and pecorino foam). Dessert was a Dark Chocolate Praline Bar (caramelized milk semifreddo, hazelnut crumble), and two tiny lemon cakes.

Still on a dessert kick, and not feeling too badly about it having put fifteen or so kilometers under our feet during the course of the day, we ordered the Raspberry Lemon Tart (meringue, biscuit tuile, raspberry sorbet, mint gel) and Diva’s Warm Chocolate Soufflé Cake (pistachio ice cream and chocolate sauce). It was a decadent way to close out a delicious and impeccable meal, and we had no regrets other than bemoaning the fact we’d eaten far too much.

Raspberry Lemon Tart w/ meringue, biscuit tuile, raspberry sorbet, mint gel (Diva at the Met)

Raspberry Lemon Tart w/ meringue, biscuit tuile, raspberry sorbet, mint gel (Diva at the Met)

Our final call for the night was a stop next door at the Hotel Georgia for a post-dinner drink at their bar. It’s not the hotel or its bar that drew us there (although the Georgia is a fantastic place to stay), but instead its weekend bartender, Joe. While Joe claims that Bud Light is his beverage of choice, don’t let that fool you; the concoctions he comes up with are sublime and he’s a true and dedicated craftsmen. We were lucky enough to let him ply his trade on us while staying at the Georgia earlier in the year, and we had every intention of watching him work his magic again this time through town. Whether you pick something off the seasonal drink menu or give Joe a flavor to build with, you won’t be disappointed. His Canadian Old Fashion, even if not a warm weather libation or on the bar’s summer menu, is still a great drink to ask for (as I did). Just be wary of Joe’s Sun Kiss and, to put it not-so-mildly, the serious jalapeño kick it contains. If you’re lucky enough, and he likes you, Joe might even let you sample a few of the tastes he’s got in the works for next season’s menu.

Finally back at our hotel, shoes are off and feet are up, stomachs are ridiculously full and our heads are swimming back through a day’s worth of fantastic memories. Any city that lets you do so much while staying on your feet and not traveling too far is a place worth knowing. To that end, Vancouver was a delight and we can’t wait to return.

(Click on a pic to embiggen and view the full gallery. You can also view these photos on our Flickr Photostream.)
  • Alyne Fortgang

    Your skillful writing makes me want to get to Vancouver asap.

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