Not that long ago it was tough to identify a quintessential taste or ingredient that visitors would identify with B.C. beyond smoked salmon and Rogers chocolates. But times have changed and our culinary horizons have expanded.
Case in point, the B.C. Spot Prawn, whose sweet return (the season started this week) is celebrated at a growing number of festivals this year, from Vancouver to Langley, Cowichan Bay to Powell River and even Kelowna.
Success hasn't happened by accident but represents an unwavering commitment to changing public and government awareness by sustainable seafood advocates such as C Restaurant executive chef Robert Clark and Blue Water chef Frank Pabst, and programs such as Ocean Wise.
If you've never made it down to the Chef's Table Society's annual Spot Prawn boil (May 5th at the Public Fish Sales Dock, near First and Fir), you've been missing out on one of the tastiest, wallet-and family friendly bashes of its kind. Not to mention a chance to be served by many of the city's top chefs. Not only are Spot Prawns delicious but they're a great example of how we've come to appreciate a long under-valued creature. Go to wildbcspotprawns.com for more details.
The first thing that struck me when I walked into Cosca (1118 Denman St., 604683-8485), a friendly haunt near English Bay, is that it's more than a tad dark. The lighting was so subdued that our friend had to take the menu outside to choose his meal under the benevolent glow of street lamps.
Low light aside, one ingredient not lacking at this unabashedly friendly, neighbourhood Italian is well-intentioned passion on the plate.
Among tastes uncovered on our visit: a slightly salty artichoke velouté (missing its parmesan crisp); a crispy garbanzo bean salad with lashings of arugula and a hint of mint; a smart, balsamic-drizzled Caprese salad; an adventurous, smoked octopus and ham hock risotto; and a creamy, fluffy tiramisu.
The fare is rustic as promised but not lacking for fresh ingredients, as well as hand-made pasta and gnocchi. Although occasionally uneven, it does add up to reasonable value that suits the 'hood, while the "committed to unrehearsed service" is enthusiastically familiar. Our wishes (aside from being able to see) would include a wine list that actually has prices-and fresh cutlery with each course.
Speaking of local haunts, the West End's long-running Listel O'Doul's will serve its last smoked salmon eggs Benny and Irish coffee June 2. The one-time sports bar pioneered the now hallmark West Coast dish 40 years ago. Not to say that O'Doul's hasn't moved with the times: the Listel's sustainable mantra and chef Chris Whittaker's kitchen continues to win countless green awards; and the burgundy and glass trimmed lounge is a valued live jazz presenter.
Those elements (likely along with the Benny) are sure to be incorporated into the sustainably focused new restaurant anticipated for late summer, which will occupy the Robson Street retail space. Expect a neighbourhood friendly, casual spot, with a couple of decent beers, too. And if you have any pics of the old O'Doul's, go to thelistelhotel.com under "O'Revoir O'Doul's" for a chance to win free bites at the new resto.