The Hired Belly wonders whether he can still fit into the white pants he used to flaunt a couple of decades ago. Possibly not. The occasion? Diner en Blanc (Aug. 30), a not-soimpromptu picnic with a few hundred others at a mystery location that isn't revealed until the last minute.
Vancouver is the latest stop for this all-in-white bite, the first of which took place in Paris in the Bois de Boulougne in 1988. Since then it's popped up annually at such iconic spots as L'Arc de Triomphe and in front of Notre Dame- and spread to 20 cities on five continents. Montreal played host in 2008, while Toronto held its inaugural blanc mélange this year, with revelers braving a rainstorm at Fort York.
Vancouver co-organizer Tyson Villeneuve says he had the idea to put on a West Coast dinner while living in Paris-though he never attended an event himself.
"I'm half-French, perfectly bilingual and have a passion for French life and culture," says Villeneuve, who connected with the dinner's founder on Facebook 18 months ago.
Villeneuve says deciding on the mystery venue was the toughest part.
"We wanted to choose some place that's iconically Vancouver-to make sure it was somewhere that people internationally could identify. It will be amazingly Vancouver," he promises.
Beachfront? English Bay? Probably not. Somewhere in Stanley Park? Possibly. But likely elsewhere. And even if you're one of the 1,200 people who've forked out $39 to pack along their own white chairs and portable white picnic table for the sold-out event, you won't know where until you arrive. Diners have been instructed to gather at designated meeting places where they will then be led to the mystery spot.
Those who don't want to cater their own picnic basket will pick-up pre-ordered tastes from Top Chef Canada winner Dale MacKay, a longtime friend of Villeneuve. MacKay says his Ensemble restaurant will prep some 350 to 400 picnics of paté, cheese and panna cotta, as well as a vegetarian option. "We wanted to make it casual," says MacKay, in keeping with the spirit of the event.
One thing participants won't be able to do is bring their own wine, although the mystery venue will be licensed. Diners were able to order a bottle or two ahead of time-from a selection that even if not particularly French does include red wines, though surprisingly none from B.C.
Part promo, part entertainment (performers include acclaimed Les Noces Gitanes) and part public art piece, this mix and mingle promises to be one of the year's more intriguing outdoor food events.
The latest to make our list of go-to budget bites is Honjin Sushi (138 Davie St., 604-688-8808). While we're still lamenting the demise of Aki (an offshoot of the city's first Japanese restaurant), we're drawn to the wide variety of well-crafted, affordable tastes, from sushi to robata and beyond, at this tucked away Yaletown room within a chopstick's toss of the Roundhouse turntable.
Wander away from the (very fresh) usual sushi and sashimi offerings and you'll discover the likes of crisped taro Tempura ($7.95); lean and tender, deliciously sauced karubi, garlic beef ribs ($4.95); a generous house green salad ($4.95); chicken teriyaki and rice ($10.95); and plentiful if somewhat uneventful eggplant with ginger sauce, $4.50. On recent visits, we've dined well for $20 a person, excluding drinks and taxes. One more bonus, the staff are a delight and keen on sports, making this the perfect spot to catch a game with good eats.
Chef Meets Grape-the largest annual tasting of B.C. wines-rolls into town at the Vancouver Convention Centre East, Sept. 20. Seventy-five wineries offer 300 wines paired with plates from a variety of B.C. restaurants, including an Ocean Wise raw bar. Tickets $75. For more information, go to winebc.org.