Dining in Vancouver is a consistent delight. Restaurants serve cuisine from around the world, but the city particularly excels at Asian and Asian-fusion flavors. Local seafood, as you might expect, tends to be impeccably fresh, and many restaurants have earned the Vancouver Aquarium’s “Ocean Wise” designation, indicating that the chef serves sustainable seafood. Reservations are essential at all the recommendations below.
Many of the brick warehouses of Yaletown, just south of downtown, now house stylish restaurants, and bustling Blue Water Café is among the very best. I counted 16 different kinds of British Columbian oysters available on its Ocean Wise-recommended menu, along with numerous other local seafood options. I started with some flawless sockeye salmon and toro (tuna belly) nigiri, followed by a delicate salad of jicama slices layered with sweet Dungeness crab and shrimp. For my main course, I ordered the one item that has never changed on the menu since the restaurant opened: a slab of perfectly cooked, meaty sturgeon in a pumpernickel crust with a sweet-sour beet agrodolce and cauliflower purée. I don’t usually seek out Russian-fusion cuisine, but this dish proved it can be superb.
Blue Water Café
1095 Hamilton Street. Tel. (604) 688-8078
One of Chinatown’s newest restaurants actually serves Japanese-Italian fusion cuisine. That might sound like a recipe for disaster, but chef Joël Watanabe (of acclaimed Bao Bei) pulls off the unlikely marriage with flair. The chic restaurant feels like an insider choice — few concierges I spoke with knew of it, and it has a tucked-away location on the second floor. We started with some crusty house-made sourdough served with nori (seaweed) butter and olive oil; followed by a gorgeously composed and almost creamy albacore tuna crudo garnished with olives, Tokyo leeks and capers in olive oil, with a shiso vinaigrette. A square of lasagna comprised 10 sheets of al dente pasta layered with chanterelles, ground pork, radish greens and a miso béchamel, served in a pool of basil broth. And I succumbed to the tiramisu, an ethereally light version made with whipped soy, tofu mascarpone and plum wine in addition to the traditional espresso-soaked lady fingers. It sounds dreadful, but it was as good as almost any I’ve had in Italy.
263 East Pender Street. Tel. (778) 379-8078
Harbor-view Miku serves Japanese cuisine with European touches. We opted to try the six-course kaiseki menu and settled in to enjoy the view with flutes of Hakkaisan sparkling nigori (unfiltered sake). Highlights included a sweet and moist sablefish fillet in a miso beurre blanc accompanied by kale in sesame dressing; rare filet mignon in a sweet soy-sesame sauce with a spicy wasabi pickle relish and quinoa with chanterelles and carrots; and a unique green tea “opera” cake with matcha ice cream. But I’ll never forget the aburi (flame-seared) sushi. Many consider Miku to be Vancouver’s best sushi restaurant, and I see no reason to doubt that assertion.
70-200 Granville Street. Tel. (604) 568-3900
Perhaps Vancouver’s most anticipated opening this year was Nightingale, helmed by David Hawksworth of acclaimed Hawksworth Restaurant in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. Although this new venture hasn’t received universal praise — one local food critic excoriated the place — we had a fantastic dinner of Mediterranean-inspired shared plates. First came vegetable dishes: a salad of heirloom tomatoes and creamy smoked eggplant, and a bowl of roasted purple cauliflower with spicy harissa and crunchy sunflower seeds. We couldn’t resist the pizza with bacon, slow-roasted onion, light fior di latte cheese and a fennel salsa verde, all atop a perfectly charred crust. The seafood, too, was excellent. The octopus with blistered capers and fermented chili tasted earthy and tender, and the sturgeon in rich bagna càuda sauce with charred leeks was savory and flaky. Unfortunately, the restaurant can get a bit noisy.
1017 W. Hastings Street. Tel. (604) 695-9500
This critically lauded year-old venue also has something of an Italian shared-plate concept, but the atmosphere is more low-key than Nightingale’s, with décor reminiscent of a Parisian brasserie. I started with some plump Pacific oysters with watermelon rind brunoise and gazpacho. The following house-made squid-ink bucatini with a sauce of sea urchin butter, Calabrian chili, lemon and garlic was subtly balanced, but the large chunks of Humboldt squid on top didn’t integrate with the pasta. Better composed was the flaky halibut poached in olive oil, with sweet corn, smoked jalapeño and chanterelles. Service was slow on the Monday we visited, and I remarked to our waitress that she shouldn’t be expected to bus and set tables in addition to taking orders, serving food and acting as sommelier. She apologized, and later, when our bill came, she had deducted the wine because of the inconvenience.
905 Dunsmuir Street. Tel. (604) 974-8077