Guest reviewer, Amanda, takes the Vancouver Foodie Tour
Every so often my mother makes me metaphorically sing for my supper.
This time she said, "I'll take you on this awesome food tour of Vancouver IF you write it up for Sipping and Supping".
A day of walking in downtown Vancouver, eating really good food at places I've never been to, and hanging with my mom? Sounds pretty win-win-win to me!
So here it goes:
Michelle Ng hosts FoodieTours in Downtown Vancouver and Richmond. We joined her for the tour on Saturday, June 12, 2010
We lucked out with the weather being one of the only truly warm and sunny days that have come along since I've been back on the we(s)t coast. Our twenty minute walk to Hastings and Homer put us at our first stop with plenty of time to spare -- if you know my mother personally, you will know that for her early is on time, on time is late, and late is just out of the question.
In the end it was a group of 18 foodies (sold out tour) who assembled to follow Michelle Ng, owner/operator of the one-woman business, Foodie Tours. While most of the guests were local, there was one couple who came from Washington State for the tour as part of their seventh anniversary celebration. There was also a couple for whom this tour was their third with Michelle. While most of the guests were couples, I think this would make a great first date activity as well -- it's a public setting, delineated time frame, social and activity based and, of course, the presence of food and different
restaurants can provide lots of fodder for discussion and could quickly display commonalities or differences in taste and temperament (one funny guy actually said, "We have to walk again? For twenty minutes?" after stop two -- it's advertised as food walking tour, I assume he was joking).
Michelle has been running the Foodie Tours for about a year and has 10-15 restaurants downtown that she deals with in Vancouver. She has also added a Richmond tour to her list, and after this one, I am eager to try Richmond too. Viviane, from the third-time-Foodie-Tour couple said that the Richmond tour was outstanding. She had some of the freshest Japanese food (ten different types of sashimi) and the most unique Korean food that she's encountered in her fairly extensive gastronomic experience.
1. La Taqueria
While this is a fairly small restaurant with mostly counter space, even packed it does not feel claustrophobic. While we were there it turned over clientele very rapidly with satiated customers leaving with big smiles. It has a very hipster vibe, potentially induced by the seed shop next door, and the space is decked out with bright tiles inside, mosaics outside, and a small but friendly and efficient staff. It boasts the "Best Tacos in Town" on the placard out front, and I must admit, they may be right. Soft tacos made from scratch daily are the perfect base for the mostly organic, sustainable, and grain-fed fillings. Even though this restaurant only opened a few months ago, it has already been awarded the designation of Best Mexican Restaurant.
For our tour, co-owner Rafael whipped us up three different tacos and a glass of Rice Water with Cinnamon and Vanilla. Surprisingly thirst quenching, I really liked the rice water. We then had a Beef Fajita with peppers and onions (my favourite), a Spicy Mushroom Taco, and Chicken with Mole (a blend of 27 spices and chocolate). The overall group consensus was very positive, with most picking the spicy mushroom as their favourite.
2. Next, the group set off for an eight - ten minute walk to Pender and Howe. There we arrived at Sciue (Napalese for "good and fast"). This Italian bakery cafe starts its bread-making process at four in the morning. Their Italian pizzas, which are long Roman-style flatbreads, are sold by weight. The manager, Roderigo, and our host at Sciue calls them the street food of Italy (no street meat for those Romans -- take that, Japadog!) Sciue opened in Vancouver about five years ago and then opened its second location, across from Urban Fare, about two years ago.
They gave us an abundance of three different types of pizza to try as well as either a shot-sized cappuccino or latte (the cappuccino was really yummy and helped boost the energy for more walking and eating). Of the pizzas on offer for us, Smoked Salmon, Spicy Sopressata, and Mushroom, all were excellent. The general consensus again seemed to favour the mushroom, but I loved, loved!, the smoked salmon. Their display cabinets are full of homemade sandwiches and salads and tonnes of desserts, many of which, like their sugary doughnuts are also made in-house.
3. Our next stop was a bit further with a twenty minute walk getting us to West Georgia and Thurlow, but our stay at the Shangri-La Hotel included two stops. I've haven't been into this hotel since it has been built, but the first thing that struck me was the aromatic lobby. I asked, and they do indeed pump aroma through the air-conditioning. It was a great scent -- their Shangri-La blend. The hotel was completed about and year and a half ago and is operated by a group in Hong Kong. It boasts the deepest foundation in Vancouver and has objects in set into the four corners of the base which were blessed by monks.
Our first stop there was in the Lobby Lounge where they serve a three course lunch special for twenty dollars (which, quite frankly, sounds like a steal based on the quality of what we were given) and have a free tapas hour Monday - Friday from 5-6pm. For our tour, hosts Sumeena and David
provided one-third of the Hight Tea Menu. Served an aromatic White Jasmine Pearl tea along with a bite-sized portion of Peach Tart, Peach Pavlova, and a Vanilla Peach Layered Cake was a great indulgence. But their scones with clotted cream and in-house-made compotes was the outstanding item for me. I don't usually indulge in complex carbs of that kind, but those scones were so good I convinced a table mate to split a second one with me. Best. Scone. Ever. Really, I'm drooling just writing about it now.
4. An elevator ride upstairs brought us to our penultimate location, Market. I'm not sure why, but it always vaguely surprises me when I run into people I went to UBC with and they have real jobs and act like adults. Perhaps it's because I'm still (ostensibly) on the learning side of school and I don't really feel like I look or act my age. When did I stop being in my late twenties? That's how I felt when I realized that our host at Market, award-winning resident mixologist and bar leader Justin, was none other than a like-minded buddy of mine in a truly heinous psychology class in second-year. Looking as upscale and hip in his pin-striped suit, as warranted by the ambiance of the award winning (Best Hotel and Best New Design) Market, Justin provided our tour group with a taste of their signature sodas. These fruit blends (ginger, passionfruit, cherry, and jasmine) are made fresh daily and comprise the base of their wide range of cocktails and non-alcoholic sodas. Justin was full of praise for his boss, acclaimed celebrity chef Jean-Georges.
A three-Michelin starred chef with well over twenty international restaurants under command, Jean-Georges is credited with changing the face of contemporary American cuisine. It is therefore not hard to believe that the main dining room at Market turns over two or three times in an evening. Out of all of the places we tried on this tour, this is the one that I keep hounding my mom about coming back to. Why? Aside from the taste-bud tingling sodas, for food, they gave our tour group a taste of both their Seared Tuna in a Rice Cracker Crust and their Black Truffle Pizza. I'm not usually a fan of seared tuna, I like it raw (as in sashimi) or in a can (as in "Chicken of the Sea"), but this was just delicious. And then came the black truffle pizza with Fontina cheese. Oh. My. Lord. One of the best tasting dishes I've ever had -- apparently it's on the list of things to do in Vancouver before you die.
Umm, yeah, big time. Maybe I'll just keep hounding ma until she can't take it anymore. Or maybe I can pretend to be an adult and just go myself. Either way, both of these dishes deserve more than just a small taste.
5. Our final stop was another fifteen-twenty minute walk to the Sutton Place Hotel. Our host, David, toured us past the chocolate buffet and into the wine shop. I'm not sure how we made it past the buffet without dipping something into the chocolate fountain or waiting for a freshly made crepe, but we did. All of us. The hotel was completed in time for Expo 86 and David informed us that many of the people working there have been there since it opened. He said that the staff are treated so well, they just don't want to leave. Desmond was our host in the wine shop, where we were given a taste of a Fortified Raspberry Wine from Naramata and a piece of chocolate. This privately owned wine store focuses on BC and international wines with tastings running from five to six on Thursday (BC) and Friday (international) evenings. They have been open three years and specialize in wines that are not usually listed within the VQA stores, in other words, the hard-to-get-but-totally-worth-the-effort-to-find finds.
Upon returning home I discovered that in our envelopes supplied by Michelle at the start of the tour were a membership to the Sutton Place Hotel Wine Shop, coupons for free coffees and appetizers from a few of the establishments, and information on all the places that we visited. Michelle is eager for feedback about her tours and provides a form to elicit responses. Due to her warm and welcoming personality, the high caliber of places she takes us to, and the entrepreneurial, passionate inventivness that she exhibits (Foodie Tours is a GREAT idea) I give her high praise, and high recommendations, indeed.
Thanks, Michelle. See you on the Richmond tour. Hint, hint, mama.