Even though En Route magazine published its much anticipated Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2012 earlier this fall, we were surprised the Air Canada glossy managed to “overlook” Vancouver completely in its much anticipated top 10 roundup, which managed to anoint six Toronto restos in the mix.
We’re sure that any one of our show-stoppers that follow in year-end roundup (at least the ones that had opened in time) would have been a contender at some level, given a more balanced appraisal.
The focus of Vancouver’s downtown scene (propelled in part by ever ascendant downtown rents and a still soft economy) has shifted to the East Side and across the bridge. In some ways that’s a boon, encouraging young chefs to strike out on their own in more affordable, neighbourhood settings.
When Trevor Bird — fresh off the set from Top Chef Canada — swooped into the old Refuel premises on West Fourth to retool and open in a matter of weeks, we weren’t sure what to expect. But Fable Kitchen embodies much of what’s happening in Vancouver right now, with a firm focus on farm to table that its name promises and delivers, all at an affordable price. Top tastes: “canned tuna” and tender duck breast with cauliflower and scallion perogies.
Not far behind, in similar vein, we’re pretty sure that while Fable may have been missed by En Route, recently opened Forage — Chris Whittaker’s smart new room in the Listel Hotel — will be rooting for a spot in the 2013 lineup. The Gelderman Farm pork belly with braised cabbage, pink lady apple and celeriac pomme purée was one of the best dishes tasted all year.
The move to smaller, simpler kitchens was mirrored in the arrival of aptly named Sardine Can in Gastown. Andrey Durbach’s traditional tapas salute is still packing them in, even if it’s been somewhat eclipsed by Denman Street’s España, where Ed Perow (ex-Le Brasserie) and Neil Taylor (ex-Cibo) have combined their talents to put out some of the best tastes downtown right now.
Robust flavours, honesty of ingredients and eco-awareness increasingly trumped sophisticated surroundings and classic plates as Vancouverites voted with their feet to kitchens that increasingly embraced local trends, as well as the “nose to tail” movement.
Add to our list of highlights some terrific tastes at Wildebeest, where David Gunawan’s (ex-West) detail driven, carnivorous salutes include a superb 48-hour braised short rib with smoky salt and jus.
John Blakeley’s newly minted and renamed Le Parisien more than does justice to the former Café de Paris space, and echoes Bistro Pastis in a more relaxed, traditional setting. Go for the seductive smoked chicken liver and foie gras parfait with pear compote, and stay for the crispy braised pig’s trotters.
It won’t take much to make us regulars at Victoria Drive’s Via Tavere — an unpretentious contender for best pizza, while La Pentola (in the Opus Hotel) brings a welcome taste of La Quercia to downtowners not wishing to make the trek “out west.”
On the liquid side of things, Daniel Frankel proved the cynics wrong by opening Tap & Barrel as the city’s first draught wine and beer house, collaborating with Vancouver Urban Winery, which threatens to revolutionize the way we drink wine by the glass.