June 13, 2007
fig. a: signage, Chinatown
Having only skirted Chinatown on Day 1, we decided to get to the heart of the matter on Day 2. What follows are the relevant details.
I should add that we arrived in Vancouver with a couple of trusty lists of recommendations firmly in hand. And while we were open to any and all suggestions, we made it clear to our insiders that we were most interested in things like ramen joints, hand-pulled noodle specialists, sushi bars, malaysian restaurants, dim sum houses, and izakayas--things that are either nonexistent in Montreal or have yet to reach the state of the art, things that we find ourselves craving on a regular basis. Day 2 was the day that we started to really put these tips to use.
fig. b: New Town
One of our tip lists had drawn our collective attention to the "cocktail buns" at New Town, but the author had forgotten what the exact name of the place in question was. The sign outside--the one behind the frog and next to the smiley face, the one that quite bizarrely descibed the house specialty, steamed buns, as being "Chinese hamburgers"--made it absolutely clear that this was the place we were looking for. We walked in and found the steamed bun shrine of our dreams, complete with a wide variety of freshly steamed buns of all types, a retro, Chinese diner-style interior, and dozens and dozens of older Chinese men luncheoning. We marched right up to the take-out counter and ordered a steamed barbecue pork bun--our favorite--and when we tore it open on the sidewalk, moments later, we were happy to see that it lived up to expectations: fresh, hot, and steamy, with a pork filling that was not overly sweet and had plenty of character. All I can say is that this was the first of numerous stops at New Town during our one-week visit to Vancouver.
fig. c: vintage cookbooks from MacLeod's
God, we wish we had a secondhand bookstore like MacLeod's here in Montreal. Actually, there are a number of bookstores that Vancouver has that we could use here, but MacLeod's is the one we find ourselves missing the most. Those huge leaning towers of recent arrivals scattered about the store are enough to make us swoon. We spent well over an hour scouring the shelves, making selections, and taking full advantage of their 20% off sale on purchases of 5 books or more. These purchases included a number vintage illustrated cookbooks like the two pictured above: the Royal Baking Powder Co. of New York, U.S.A.'s New Royal Cookbook (the one with the tantalizing stack of flapjacks) and the British Columbia Electric Company Limited's Home Preservers' Handbook (the one with the tantalizing Bettie Page lookalike).
fig. d: Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden
Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden
By the time we got back to Chinatown, we'd worked up a bit of an appetite again, but first we stopped off in the world-famous Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden to travel back in time, take in the views, meditate, and say hello to a turtle who was busy swimming among the lotuses.
fig. e: décor, Kam Gok Yuen
Kam Gok Yuen
Little did we know that Kam Gok Yuen, the next stop on our tour, had its very own garden on premises.
fig. f: booth, Kam Gok Yuen
We took a seat at one of their gorgeous green booths and ordered the chili wontons (in actual fact, "red hot chili wontons") recommended by one of our tipsters along with the bbq duck with noodles, because we'd heard from D. that Kam Gok Yuen's bbq duck was something to behold. Win-win. The wontons were wonderfully delicate, with a tasty filling and chili sauce with real depth to it; the bbq duck (accompanied with the clear broth seen below) was just plain succulent.
fig. g: red hot chili wontons and noodles with bbq duck, Kam Gok Yuen
S. insisted that we check out the steamed vegetable buns at Sun Fresh, and who are we to deny the world (or S., for that matter)? We stopped in after Kam Gok Yuen "for dessert" and picked up a bun for the road. The verdict: ridiculously good, stuffed with a savory medley of Chinese cabbage, mushrooms, and other vegetables that was irresistible. As was the case with New Town, this was the first of a number during the course of the week. We also tried the steamed vegetable with pork bun one time when they'd temporarily run out of the vegetable bun, but it wasn't quite as satisfying.
fig. h: the menu at Salt
Hours later we found ourselves at Salt, a wine bar and "tasting room" tucked away on Gastown's ominously named Blood Alley (come to think of it, Gastown itself is pretty ominously named, and so is Gassy Jack, but that's another story). Anyway, Salt is just as stylishly minimal as the name suggests, just a relatively small and sparsely appointed room with a lovely bar, some seats by the window, and a couple of long communal tables. The concept is simple and elegant too: just a few menu items, including a brilliant charcuterie plate, a plat du jour, a shaved fennel salad, a soup of the day, and a deluxe grilled cheese sandwich; a few microbrews; a handful of whiskeys; and a tasteful selection of wines. "What's so 'brilliant' about the charcuterie plate?" Get this: you scan the chalkboard and you pick your choice of three items from the meat & cheese selection (which includes a whole host of artisanal sausages, hams, corned beef, and other delicacies from such local standouts as J, N, & Z Deli and Grandville Island's Oyama Sausage Company, not to mention a number of excellent European cheeses) and then you get three homemade condiments to go with them. Who can argue with that? We ordered a charcuterie plate and a few glasses of wine and we settled in.
When we felt we needed a jolt to the system again, we said goodbye to our friends at Salt, went around the corner and up Water St., and stepped into the madness that is Guu. But first: years ago, when I lived in Vancouver, I had a friend who lived on Thurlow just a half block away from Robson (a.k.a. the site of the notorious twin kitty-corner Starbucks). Right across the street there was a Japanese hipster hangout that we used to admire from about 200 feet away. The comings and goings of their clientele fascinated us, as did the drunken antics of the departing crowds around closing time. Of course, the climax came one night when a cleaver-wielding cook chased one young reveler down the street, cursing at top volume. We never did cross the threshhold to find out was going on inside. Well, that was the original Guu. Now there's three of them, each with their very own personality. One of them specializes in garlic. I'm not sure that the Guu on Water St. specializes in; all I know is that we liked it. Especially with beer and sake and pan-seared tuna and sweet shrimp sashimi and hip-hop.
If that wasn't enough, I found myself at a bachelor party at a place called Six Acres, formerly known as Moonshine. It wasn't exactly The Drake, but it was very nicely appointed, the conversation was lively, and they did have an awfully nice selection of imported beers, including D.'s favorite, Alhambra from Spain.
Meanwhile, Michelle and S. followed up Guu with some drinks at Shebeen, a "whiskey house" that, along with Irish Heather and The Salty Tongue, is part of the same family as Salt, and that has an awfully nice selection of whisk(e)ys. It, too, isn't exactly The Drake.
New Town, 158 Pender Street East, (604) 689-7835
MacLeod's Books, 455 Pender Street West, (604) 681-7654
Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden, 578 Carrall, (604) 662-3207
Kam Gok Yuen, 142 Pender Street East, (604) 683-3822
Sun Fresh Bakery, 215 Keefer Street East, (604) 688-3868
Salt Tasting Room. 45 Blood Alley, (604) 633-1912
Guu, 105-375 Water Street, (604) 685-8682
Six Acres, 203 Carrall St. (behind the statue of Gassy Jack), (604) 488-0110
Shebeen, 9 Gaoler's Mews, (604) 915-7338
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
June 13, 2007