Where to Go Next: Vancouver
British Columbia produces excellent wines but exports very little to the U.S.—a fabulous excuse for a pilgrimage to Vancouver. The restaurants below offer some of the city’s best wine lists.
Robert Feenie is known around Canada as an Iron Chef winner. He’s also one of Vancouver’s best cooks. Feenie’s is his more casual restaurant (Lumière is his other), with a menu dedicated to haute comfort food like the Feenie Burger (with or without sautéed foie gras). New wine director Sebastien Le Goff, Vancouver’s Sommelier of the Year in 2006, has added impressive Old World bottles to the formerly all-New World list. Details 2563 W. Broadway; 604-739-7115.
This wildly popular spot in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood is the first endeavor from young, tattooed chef Robert Belcham, who has cooked at the city’s Nu and C as well as at the French Laundry in Napa Valley. Belcham’s menu offers inspired dishes such as caramelized onion consommé with a Manchego cheese wafer, and crispy pork shoulder with garlic confit and blood orange. His business partner, Tom Doughty, runs the wine program; among the local bottlings they offer is Doughty’s own label, Montagu Cellars Winery, made with grapes from Canada’s Okanagan Valley. Details 1944 W. Fourth Ave.; 604-288-7905.
Right next door to Fuel is the likable Gastropod, also debuting a talented young chef—Angus An. His training at Toqué! in Montreal and at the Fat Duck in Bray, England, is apparent in dishes like salmon with wasabi sabayon and warm bulgur salad. Gastropod buys wines each week, and many of them, like Sandhill Gewürztraminer and Blasted Church Pinot Noir, are made in British Columbia. Details 1938 W. Fourth Ave.; 604-730-5579.
Salt Tasting Room
This warehouse-size space down a historic cobblestone-lined alley has become one of the city’s hottest restaurants, even though it doesn’t have a kitchen. Instead, Salt serves artisanal cheeses and charcuterie, which it lists on a chalkboard menu that serves as an entire wall. The $25 Butcher Plate, which might include smoked pork tenderloin and wild-boar salami, comes with three 2-ounce tastings of wine, such as Inniskillin Dark Horse Vineyard Meritage, from Canada. Salt has become a popular hangout for chefs, and some of them create appetizers (or accompaniments) to serve as specials. On the menu recently: a foie gras parfait with white-truffle butter from chef Andrey Durbach of Parkside restaurant. Details Blood Alley (south of Water St., between Carrall and Abbott Sts.); 604-633-1912.
At this gorgeous waterside spot, owner Harry Kambolis and chef Robert Clark feature sustainable seafood (C is a founding member of Ocean Wise, the Canadian restaurant industry’s eco project with the Vancouver Aquarium). This is the only place in the world to find hand-harvested abalone served three ways—as sashimi, braised in seaweed broth and grilled—and paired with Tantalus Riesling, an Okanagan boutique wine. C’s sister place, Raincity Grill is as obsessed with local ingredients as C is with fish, creating tasting menus from regional mushrooms, say, but eschewing lemons because they aren’t grown in B.C. Details C, 1600 Howe St.; 604-681-1164. Raincity Grill, 1193 Denman St.; 604-685-7337.
Memphis Blues Barbeque House
Vancouver isn’t an obvious barbecue town, but Memphis Blues’ four no-frills locations (including a new one in Okanagan wine country) are terrific. Co-owner Park Heffelfinger, a former wine salesman, likes to pair local British Columbian vintages with his barbecue, and his small wine lists are some of the most interesting in town. Selections like Peller Estates Cabernet Franc make a surprisingly good match for favorites like the Elvis Platter—an over-the-top mix of succulent ribs, meaty brisket and house-smoked sausage. Details 1342 Commercial Dr.; 604-215-2599 (plus three other locations).
Servers offer cups of chai to everyone waiting on line to get in to chef-owner Vikram Vij’s stellar Indian restaurant Vij’s (it doesn’t take reservations). Inside, diners peruse a wine list that’s as thoughtful as the refined Punjabi menu, with dishes like pan- fried coriander quail cakes and coconut-curried vegetables. Vij actively follows the local wine scene and leans toward moderately priced bottles such as Blue Mountain Gamay Noir. Any wine on his list can also be ordered at the restaurant’s casual next-door annex, Rangoli. Details 1480 W. 11th Ave.; 604-736-6664.
The first thing diners see upon entering this elegant restaurant is the floor-to-ceiling wall of wines—a well-balanced mix of Old and New World, including small Okanagan Valley producers such as Golden Mile Chardonnay and Nichol Vineyard Cabernet Franc. Local hero chef David Hawksworth prepares satisfying dishes with Canadian ingredients, like roasted chicken with wild ramps and Quebec foie gras. Details 2881 Granville St.; 604-738-8938.
After 18 years of serving world-class Japanese food at his modest West Broadway space, chef Hidekazu Tojo has moved down the street to a 6,500-square-foot space with a curved ceiling inspired by Shinto shrines. Tojo’s offers dishes with popular local ingredients, like Dungeness crab salad with miso dressing. The bar pours artisanal Japanese sake, along with newly released and only-in-Canada labels of unfiltered sake from Vancouver’s Artisan Sake Maker. Details 1133 W. Broadway; 604-872-8050.