Explore Like A Local: Vancouver Dining

I’m going to lay it all on the line, be completely honest, and just bare my soul for you here. I am dreading writing this post. Why? Because it’s too good. I mean, the food of Vancouver is just too good. Too good for me to find enough words to describe it, too good to not sound like a broken record as I try to find ways to tell you about it.

Perhaps I should just start with Paul.

Paul Done rocks. No other way to say it. And homeboy is TALL.

This is Mr. Paul Done, Food Lover and PR Consultant Extraordinaire. See that beer? That’s a local craft beer enjoyed on the first day of a 2-day quick tour throughout Gastown, Yaletown and Kitsilano, not to mention a few other Vancouver neighborhoods and city sites. This man knows his city, knows his food, and kept me entertained beyond words. He was the perfect companion to take me on my tour and the kind of guy you just want to be around. And that beer was only one of the many glasses of beer, wine, and endless plates of food and tastings we had as we ran around Vancouver, both on foot and in a car.

Beer, wine, cheese, charcuterie. SALT IS MY DREAM COME TRUE.

And before I go any further, you do realize you can enter to win my itinerary, right? Correct. You can stop by and visit these places too, but only if you’re up for it. Because the level of awesomeness just kept overdoing itself again and again throughout my time in Vancouver.

Breakfast at Cafe Medina. GO, JUST GO. Trust me. Not like I need to tell you how awesome it is. Everyone knows.

Here’s what I’m not going to be doing in this post: I’m not going to be reviewing every single place I went to. That’d just be nutty. And unnecessary. Besides, I don’t do restaurant reviews. What I can hope to accomplish here is to convey the level of happiness, comfort, skill, and “right-on”ness (I made that up) that comes from the Vancouver culinary scene. It’s vibrant, youthful, daring, traditional, intelligent, focused, and meaningful. It’s both a culinary warm hug and a quick cheeky pinch.  Just enough to wake you up, I mean.

I dream of having Big Lou's Butcher Shop in my neighborhood. I really do.

It’s people who care about what they do and how they do it. It’s about an attention to detail that never feels fussy or stifling, and it’s an elegant casualness that is right up my alley. Vancouver has easily become a favorite spot for me and I can’t wait to return.

Nelson The Seagull and a view of Vancouver at dusk

And if you go, you simply must pay a visit to Granville Island Market. Walk around, check out the shops, snack a bit, eat some more, buy some gifts for friends and family, it truly is a fantastic way to spend some time.

Meat & Bread, 370 Cambie Street

Below is my list of places we visited. Some were more comprehensive than others; we sipped and nibbled at a few, I stuffed my face at others. But I can tell you that I’d easily return to every single one of them in a heartbeat, no hesitation.

I spent a lovely afternoon at Thierry Patisserie, 1059 Alberni St. Photographer John Sherlock was in the back shooting for the website. Double score!

Remember that you can enter to win one of three different Explore Like A Local Itineraries. Will you go the explorer route and select Mike’s trip and backpack your way through the National Parks of Québec? Or will you shop your way through Toronto? I know you really want to eat your way through Vancouver, right? Just be prepared to bring an empty stomach and have your mind blown away.

 

The Greedy Pig, 307 West Cordova Street

The Dirty Apron Cooking School and Delicatessen, 540 Beatty Street

Big Lou’s Butcher Shop, 260 Powell Street

Salt Tasting Room, 45 Blood Alley

Meat & Bread, 370 Cambie Street

The Irish Heather, 212 Carrall St

Save-On Meats, 43 West Hastings Street

L’Abattoir, 217 Carral St.

Boneta, Courtyard of 12 Water Street

Cork & Fin, 221 Carrall Street

Two Chefs and a Table, 305 Alexander Street

Nelson The Seagull, 315 Carrall Street

 

Bitter (opening soon and it’ll be gorgeous, I had a sneak peek) 18 West Hastings

Café Medina, 556 Beatty Street

Oakwood Canadian Bistro, 2741 West 4 Avenue

The Flying Pig Bistro, 1168 Hamilton Street

C Restaurant, 1600 Howe Street

Granville Island Market/ Edible Canada at the Market, 1596 Johnston Street

Thierrys Patisserie, 1059 Alberni St

 

Some scenes from Sav-On Meats. Great space!

 

 

Running through Yaletown and Kitsilano on a rainy afternoon. Also, please visit Oakwood Canadian Bistro. You must.

 

I cannot express my gratitude over meeting these gracious folks who make eating in Vancouver a very special thing. Clockwise Boneta's Neil Ingram, Chef Thierry Busset, Mike Shea of Oakwood, Chef Michel Laurent of Granville Island Market.

 

A very special thanks to the St. Regis Hotel for such excellent service and a wonderful room to lay my head (and rest my full belly) while in Vancouver. St. Regis is located at 602 Dunsmuir Street  in downtown Vancouver, BC. You can find them online here.

 

Explore Like A Local: Vancouver Food Carts

You’d think stuffing myself with Chinese food in Richmond would cause me to throw in the towel. No way. After a quick trip into Vancouver I was ready to jump into my tour of the Vancouver food cart scene with Michelle Ng, the founder of Foodie Tour. I could not have been in better hands on a rainy and extremely chilly day. Luckily, the amazing cuisine warmed me up as did the excellent company. My new friend Karima of  I Heart Big Flavour joined me on the food cart tour and this woman rocks my world. I’m glad I had a fellow blogger and Vancouverite to join me, she was invaluable! I love you, Karima!

Vancouver has taken a very proactive approach in the establishment of food carts, issuing annual licenses on a limited basis. Each year only a small amount of trucks are introduced after an extensive evaluation process, with vendor vying for space and permits to sell their food. The hopes are that in a few years there will be dozens and dozens of more mobile places to eat, but the city is in no rush to get there. Quality and control is paramount, even if it does create a few bottlenecks in the process. Those lucky enough to be selected hold the privilege in high esteem and it’s this dedication that translates to customers.

Our first stop with Michelle was at Japadog, a Vancouver institution that is now legendary. Put the Western hotdog with Japanese ingredients and out comes the Japadog, something that I can definitely support.  Our hotdog had Japanese mayo and nori and was pure heaven. Pace yourself, I said, we have several more places to eat. But I didn’t want to. I wanted to try them all.

Our second stop was at Soho Road, and I shall tell you this: easily my favorite stop of the tour, hands down. I’m not sure if it was owner Sarb Mund’s jovial smile, the warm cup of chai on the rainy day, or the tandoor oven inside his truck that was busy firing naan and chicken. I’ve never seen a moveable tandoor, let alone inside a truck, and marveled as I watched skewered meat hang and cook, followed by naan dough as it cooked by sticking alongside the clay oven’s walls. He only serves a few things, but those few things are done exceptionally well, if not perfect. Yea, I’ll say they were perfect. The Butter Chicken Naan was heavenly, perfectly spiced and tender, with scoops of chopped cucumber and onion for contrast. Rolled up and served, this was perfect street food. Soho Road is on my list of places to immediately return to. Thank you, Sarb!

Our third stop of the day was at Finest At Sea, a food cart that specializes in wild caught seafood. Finest at Sea’s cart is an offshoot of their retail establishment, in business since 1977.  We tasted a Curried Halibut, Eggplant & Coleslaw Naan Wrap and washed it down with Green Tea with Ginger and Lime. You couldn’t have fresher, more exhilarating flavors if you tried. Absolutely spectacular.

The last on our stop was Tacofino, a favorite of locals who never shied away from sharing their faves. I’m going to admit that I was a weeeeeeeeeee bit incredulous about trying a taco so far from home, especially a Baja-style fish taco. Up until this point nothing in Vancouver has been less than amazing, would Tacofino be the first to disappoint? You’ll be happy to know that I can say “ABSOLUTELY NOT.” Crispy battered cod with a delicious tempura coating, chipotle mayo, shredded cabbage and salsa fresca on a tortilla met with complete approval from this man. It was exactly what a fish taco should be, minus the chilly rain that was pouring down. I can forgive you for that, Vancouver.  Sadly to say I missed the tasting of the Chocolate Diablo Cookie as I was completely stuffed and just couldn’t take one more bite but apparently it’s a favorite, too.

For more information on Michelle’s Foodie Tour please visit www.foodietour.ca. Public tours are available from April through November, with private tours available year round for 4 or more guests. Michelle’s twitter is here and her facebook is here. Thank you, Michelle, you are wonderful!

 

Exploring Like A Local: Richmond, BC

All these 15+ hour trips to Asia and it’s been less than 3 hours away this whole time?

Alright, ok, please don’t get out a map to prove me wrong. I’m being silly and I realize that nothing can compare to actually spending time eating from Hawker Stalls in Singapore or exploring a fish market in Busan.

Well, almost nothing.

I recently spent 2 days eating in Richmond, British Columbia as part of the Explore Like A Local Sweepstakes put on by Travel + Leisure and the Canadian Tourism Commission. They asked if I’d like to eat my way through any city in Canada and write about my experience in hopes of exciting others enough to enter to win my itinerary. I picked Vancouver – an easy trip up the West Coast of North America which would allow me to maximize my travel time. Part of this Vancouver experience would be visiting Richmond, British Columbia’s 4th largest city and nestled directly next to Vancouver. While it’s no secret that Asian blood must run through my Latino veins (from where it comes from I have no idea!) but what I wasn’t prepared for was this town easily becoming one of my most favorite places on the planet.

Richmond, you rock.

To understand the food in Richmond you must have a quick lesson on demographics and history. Don’t worry, it’s quick. Richmond began to see many immigrants from Hong Kong and throughout Asia after World War II, with a great number flowing in during the 1990s. Currently, Richmond is 65% Asian, 49% of those are Chinese. You’ll find other Asian cultures as well, particularly Southeast Asian as well as a mix of other cultures from all over the world. But this predominately Chinese makeup means restaurants, stores, shops and markets all cater to an Asian population, and visiting and eating is pure heaven for a guy like me.

What you won’t find in Richmond is a central Asian neighborhood, a place that announces itself with a banner or red arches as a gateway to a Chinatown. Here Chinese culture here is woven into every aspect of living, reflected not only in its citizens but also through signage and everyday life. I have never felt more like a visitor in Asia than I did in Richmond, and considering I was still standing in North America my mind was blown away.

Then there’s the food. Oh my goodness, the food.  The New York Times said Richmond has “the best Chinese food outside China” and I’m not going to disagree. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my trips to Asia it’s this: food must be of a certain quality, taste good, be made and served properly…there are definitely standards. Richmond was no different. Each restaurant I visited seemed to outdo the last as I sampled Hong Kong-style comfort foods, Malaysian noodles, a Shanghainese dim sum as well as glorious food courts within 2 distinct Asian malls.

With my Tourism Richmond guide Stacey Chyau we headed to a few places to eat and it eventually became clear that I just couldn’t get enough of Richmond.

Lunch was a dim sum at Shanghai River Restaurant, 7831 Westminster Highway. Marvelous flavors, quite subtle and delicate, with cooks making handmade noodles in the kitchen. Quite possibly the best xiao long bao (soup dumpling) I’ve tasted, with perfect pork filling and enough steaming hot liquid inside to really satisfy. Other highlights included the jelly pork, a slab of gelatin and pork served cold as well as the unsweetened doughnut that’s dipped into slightly sweetened warm soy milk. Fantastic!

Later we headed to the Golden Village neighborhood for a visit to Alexandria Road, also known as Food Street. Get this: over 200 Asian restaurants within a 3-block radius. OVER 200! Yes yes yes yes yes. I’m already planning a trip to return. Our triplicate-dinner began at Cattle Café, 1020-8580 Alexandra Road, for a bowl of Laksa followed by Ginger Deep Fried Chicken Wings. We finished our meal at this bright, modern fun spot with Condensed Milk and Butter Toast. Think French Toast with lotus jam between two eggy slices and dipped in honey and yes, it was as fantastic as it sounds. We also dove into Bubble Waffles before finishing our Hong Kong-style Milk Tea & Coffee, a perfect combo of tea and coffee made with evaporated milk. Definitely East meets West.

Second on our list included a stop at Claypot Hot Pot and BBQ, 105-8291 Alexandra Road. As it began to drizzle and the temperature dropped I could think of nothing better than a stop for Hot Pot. We mixed our condiments into the perfect dipping sauce as we waited for our giant pot filled with two liquids of our choice to arrive. Once on the table it bubbled as we dipped a variety of vegetables and meats like lamb, pork, chicken and crunchy fish skin into the hot liquid. And when I say hot I mean that on both fronts: the spicy liquid was an oily combination of black and pink peppercorns, entire chiles, chile oil and spices that needed to be spicy enough to season your meat once removed. Too much of the hot broth on your food rendered your mouth numb and not much use for a minute or two. When that happened my mouth found refuge in the much milder side of the pot that contained a very simple gingery broth meant for greens and veggies. I really dig this style of communal eating, even if my mouth was temporarily incapacitated!

The third spot on our Dine Around (don’t you just love that term?) was Jade Seafood Restaurant, 8511 Alexandra Road, a beautiful contemporary restaurant located upstairs in a shopping strip. This award-winning spot was packed with an older crowd enjoying a meal and was the perfect place to end the night. The roasted squab really hit the spot.

The next morning I was up bright and early to explore Yaohan Centre and pay a visit to Osaka, a grocery store that specializes in a whole variety of Asian cuisine. Like many Japanese markets, it was a sparkling, glistening superstore but my guides had to pull me away from this:

If there is a sambal, a gojuchang, a soy sauce, a vinegar, a sriracha, a chile paste or sauce that wasn’t on this aisle then chances are it doesn’t exist. Anywhere. This was nirvana right here and I wanted to stuff my suitcase with one of each. But I didn’t.

After our market visit it was off to Aberdeen Centre, 4151 Hzelbridge Way,  for more dim sum at Fisherman’s Terrace. Those who know me know I can’t pass up a congee EVER so luckily I was able to order a bowl to get my morning started.

A Richmond, Chinese food eye-opener? Light pastry wrapped around things like pork and roast beef. Delicately tender noodles. Things that are so exquisite and special I could cry. Flavors with finesse that I’ll obsess over until I return. Most interesting: A smoked salmon slice on top of ambrosia-style salad over a prawn chip with ribbons of Japanese mayo. This West Coast Fisherman’s Terrace original was unique and unexpected.

 

My last stop in Richmond was Park Place Mall, a very modern old-school Asian mall. Did that make sense? Old school in the sense that it’s what you’d see pre-sparkling modern Asian shopping center. Filled with herbal, tea, clothing and gadget shops, we were here to check out the humble food court, where I met with a representative and learned that the food court limits the type of restaurants located within so that it represents the best of the best: the best curry shop, the best noodle shop, the best dessert shop, the best bbq shop, the best candy shop, you get the picture. And let me tell you: this place had me hungry all over again.

 

Of course, there was one place inside Parker Place that everyone kept talking about. Non-stop. It seemed to be on everyone’s mind, a favorite of the locals that wasn’t quite a deli or restaurant but more of a butcher shop. I knew I had to investigate.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you the Parker Place Meat & BBQ shop. Also known as the happiest place on earth. Apologies to Disneyland.

OH. MY. GOD. There are no words to tell you just how delicious their Roast Pork is. It’s easily followed by their BBQ Pork. The long lines into this store easily tell you this pork is a local favorite, ordered freshly chopped in a pound or two, taken home and served with steamed rice and a few sides. Each piece of meat is a study in pork perfection: three distinct layers of meat, fat, and crunchy skin (the skin being thicker than you’d expect) resulting in a crackly brittle break that is a blessed contrast to the warm fat. No, I have tasted nothing better than this pork and felt like a glutton for downing more than my fair share so quickly post dim sum meal. You would have done the exact same. Trust me.

For Tourism Richmond click here, for more information about Richmond, British Columbia, Canada, visit their official page at http://www.richmond.ca/home.htm

Coming up: Vancouver


Talkin’ Turkey!

You certainly don’t need me to tell you that the Big Food Holiday is next week. Everywhere you turn you see tips, tricks and ideas for Thanksgiving so you’ll understand me when I say that I’m going to join the chorus! No, I will not be offering a turkey tip exactly, but I want to direct you to Cooking Channel where you’ll find a variety of recipes that I think you’ll like. And why would I do this? Because I photographed these recipes for Cooking Channel a few months ago and may just end up using one of the recipes next week for the big day.

What are your plans? I’m giddy just thinking about our week: my parents fly in Monday, my sister joins us Tuesday, and we’ll all be celebrating a giant Thanksgiving meal here at our home. Adam will do the bird, I’ll be in charge of music, decor and the hosting duties, while we’ll be joined with our friends, neighbors and extended family. We will toast a guest’s birthday, share what we’re thankful for, and wish my parents a 50th wedding anniversary all at the same time! While the exact anniversary isn’t until the end of December, I’d be a fool to not take the time to wish my loving folks the best of celebrations a bit early. When you make it to 50 Years you almost deserve to have those around you toast you many times over!

After the holiday I’ll be packing a small suitcase and heading to Australia to visit Hamilton Island for a few days, stopping off in Sydney before hightailing it back home to shoot a few assignments and work on my 2nd book. It’s a crazy time for all of us, remember to take a few moments for yourself but — MOST IMPORTANTLY — give thanks and lots of love to those in your lives. Tell them what they mean to you, even if they look at you crazy and tell you to stop. Trust me on this one: we all need to know how important we are to each other, it’s what makes this crazy life worth living. So do it. For me at least. And remember this: I am thankful for you and I love you. Each of you. I do. I really do.

Maple-Roasted Turkey with Sage, Smoked Bacon, and Cornbread Stuffing

This recipe is from Tyler Florence and hits all the right spots. C’mon, maple AND bacon ON a turkey? Yes please. The recipe is here.

Bay and Lemon Brined Turkey

I get rather obsessed with a lemon+poultry combo. Then again I get rather excited about lemon+anything combo. You cannot go wrong. This recipe from Dave Lieberman can be found here.

Jamie’s Christmas Turkey

Ok, so it needn’t be December to enjoy Jamie Oliver’s Christmas turkey.  We all know Jamie knows what he’s doing. Recipe is here.

Turkey Roulade with Apple-Cider Gravy

A lighter, smaller holiday meal can come from something as simple as a turkey breast. In fact, 2 years ago we decided to forgo the entire bird and just use the breast. This recipe was delicious and you’ll find it here.

Thank you to Adam C. Pearson for the gorgeous food styling and Dani Fisher for prop styling. Dani is ammaaaaaaazing.

All images © Matt Armendariz for Cooking Channel. Thanks to my friends at Cooking Channel for letting me share!

 

 

 

November’s Everyday Food

Hi folks! Just a little quick post to tell you know about this month’s Everyday Food Magazine! I’ve got a quick little feature as well as a new favorite holiday side dish that I will be serving this year! It’s Sweet Potato Fries with Brown-Butter Marshmallow Sauce and you can find it on page 33 of the November issue!

There’s also a few extra questions in the ipad version of Everyday Food as well as the blog, You can read it here! As usual the magazine is filled with fantastic recipes appropriate for the season and I don’t know about you but I can’t wait to make the Turkey & Mashed Potato Potpie that is on the cover. Heck to the yes.

A very special thanks to Anna Last and Merritt Watts! And thank you to Monika Dalkin of Fifty One And A Half for the gorgeous handmade platter!

Behind The Scenes: Working at Jordan Winery

I want to tell you two things, my gentle readers:

  1. Yes, this blog has been very light on food and recipes lately. I have been traveling and photographing quite a bit lately and my assignments have been occupying my time all over the place. Sonoma, Central America, Vancouver, Australia, and many points in between. Once I get my feet back on the ground I promise you I will return to recipes and food.
  2. I AM THE LUCKIEST FREAKING MAN ON THE PLANET (next to my dad because he’s married to the most amazing mother on the planet).

This post relates to both of my points, particularly #2. Last month I returned to Jordan Vineyard and Winery in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley to spend two and a half glorious days photographing a variety of environments, products and food. It was harvest season, and just between you and me I seem to end up in some rather fantastic spots during that time of year, and no ma’am, I am not complaining. This year was no different.

You may remember when I wrote about working with Jordan Winery last year. You can read about that here. To work with such lovely people in a dream location is a blessing. This year my assignment was similar but incorporated so many new things that Jordan Winery has going on. I photographed a harvest luncheon as well as lots of bottles of wine and gorgeous food, yet my biggest challenge involved photographing a group of cows who did not want their moment in the spotlight.

Sometimes you hear us photographers talk about waiting for the light, sitting patiently for a perfect moment. I sat there waiting for cows. Indeed I did.

Over the course of 2 days, I’d stop by but the cows would not cooperate. I was assured they’d come when food was brought to them but these cows, well, they ain’t dumb. They took one look at me and hightailed it over the hill, Big Mama never missing a moment to look back at me and give me that look THAT ONLY MOTHERS CAN GIVE. AND MOTHERS READING THIS, YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT AND DON’T TRY TO PRETEND YOU DON’T BECAUSE I KNOW YOU USE IT ON YOUR KIDS 289,471 TIMES A DAY.

It’s that look that says “You’ve pushed me too far. Keep pushing and see what happens.”

Needless to say I didn’t push. I’m no dummy.

On the last day, my only moment to photograph these beautiful animals, I instructed those around me (including my assistant Rick) to stay far back. The cows were still avoiding me and in one last ditch effort at levity, realizing I may not complete everything I came her for, I desperately addressed the group.

“Ok ladies, work with me on this! I need you to smile, look directly at me, chew slowly but don’t eat it completely, then take another bite but do this like 3 times in a row. Remember to look at the camera! You’re not eating for real, just for the camera! Go slowly, y’all are gorgeous!”

It’s nothing I haven’t said to someone as I coach them in a photo. And you know what happened? That’s right. It worked.

Big Mama came closer to me, looked directly in the camera, and began eating, taking small bites and repositioning her head after every camera click.

She gave me exactly what I came for, doing the job of a supermodel that has posed for photoshoots for years. Who knows, maybe she has. She never said.

I got my close ups, snapped dozens of photos, put my camera back down and looked at her and said “Thank you. I got what I needed. You are amazing. That’s a wrap!”

The second I said that she turned around, corralled the herd and walked away.

I really had a moment with her.

Speaking of moments, let’s take a look at how I spent my time at Jordan, shall we?

Why am I sad? It’s not because Call Time was 7am because you probably know I’m a SER (that’s Super Early Riser). I was sad because I was freezing!

One big shot involved a beautiful buffet table of amazing food from Executive Chef Todd Knoll. Here I am framing the scene and deciding if I’ll be able to complete it before the light and shadows move. Shooting with natural light means you have to think fast, and if I throw up Photographer Hand Signals like this it will distract everyone from the fact that I am taking sips of wine at 10:38am. KIDDING!!!! I really waited until 11:59am.

I never work without my X-Rite Color Checker Passport. It ensures color accuracy throughout the day as the light changes. What else changes? My waistline, apparently. CHECK OUT THAT BELLY! Ugh. Time for sit-ups.

 

After we photographed the entire table I went handheld for some details shots. I want you to look at the surroundings. Can you believe how beautiful it is there? Unreal.

Here I am photographing Chef Todd Knoll. Word on the streets is that he used to model back in the day which makes my job that much easier. And I didn’t have to wrangle him like I did those animals earlier.

I’ve earned the reputation as The Most Difficult Person To Work With Ever.* Here I am yelling at everyone. And on the left is my assistant Rick setting up a shot in the dining room. LOOK AT THOSE DOORS. Swoon.

*I’m only kidding. I’m generally easy to work with, I swear. Just DO NOT run your mouth during The Golden Coffee Hour, 6am-7am. Or is it 5am-6am? It’s generally the first hour I wake up. Let’s keep it quiet, y’all. Much appreciated. After that you can talk as much as you want. I know I will.

Here is a video created by Jordan Winery about our Harvest Table shoot. It’s a wonderful glimpse into the process and really exemplifies teamwork. It’s not often that there’s a seamless effort on a shoot, but then that’s Jordan for you. They are amazing and if you ever have a chance to visit them I highly recommend it.

(many of my images appear in the opening collage credits, too!)

 

Make sure to visit Jordan Winery’s blog, too! Right now there’s a photo contest happening and you should enter. You really should!

Big giant thanks to Lisa Mattson of Jordan Winery and the entire team. You are all so special and I can’t wait to see you again! And thank you to Rick for the BTS photos!

And thank you, ladies!