VANCOUVER - As you sip your java at either of the two Starbucks that sit across from each other, you know coffee drinkers are deleriously happy counting their coffee beans amidst the splendour of the mountainous backdrop. But did you know Vancouverites also are taking the business of dining seriously?
You'll see in the distance a glimmer of green copper roofing. Hotel Vancouver is just a stone's throw away. Originally a resting place for the well-to-do's during the Gilded Age of railway travel up until recently the griffin-laden hotel contained an abandoned room whose dark wood panelled walls were adorned with prizes of the hunt. Great big stuffed heads of bear, deer and moose served as a backdrop to this former Gentlemen's Only Club.
Today, the same room has been transformed into 900 West, a posh restaurant where Executive Chef Robert Le Crom makes crab cakes to die for. I enjoyed 900 West's popular version of a "flight" - a sampler of fine red or white wines. My flight of reds included the Okanagan Valley's 1994 Tinhorn Creek Merlot, a 1994 Pinot Noir from Kettle Valley and a dazzling Shiraz Cabernet vintage 1995 from the Rosemount Estate in Australia.
"It is all a pageant," announced Le Crom, as he stood in front of the restaurant's glistening raw oyster bar, holding up a plate of foie gras nestled between layers of puff pastry.
Stylishly elegant, the warm sun rays off West Georgia Street stream inside, illuminating a gang of gold leafed griffins perched high atop the ceilings of this revamped art deco building. Thai silk curtains spiral downward to meet carefully placed hand blown glass ties. In the centre of the open-concept room, a black marble-topped bar is split in two by a brass and gold leaf divider. On one side patrons sip martinis-first to the wizardry of a pianist tackling Eric Satie's Gymnopedie, and later to the New Age-flavoured jazz of John Tesh. On the other side, ladies lunch on a pan-seared seabass with cumin cous-cous, and a vinaigrette salad drizzled with a mango salsa over plump tomato and black beans. Is this Vancouver?
You bet. Be prepared to leave a hefty $90 for a meal or indulge in appetizers like chilled oysters at $1.50 each.
For die-hard theatre fans or anyone else into dining at a funky restaurant, be sure to check out the place known "for the best in theatre dining." Diva at the Met, part of the Metropolitan Hotel, is a popular eatery situated on Howe Street. This 141-seat room is sure to capture anyone's gastronomic imagination.
There's roasted garlic and white bean puree, peppered morel mushroom sausage, goat cheese and basil fritter with oven-dried tomato and roasted garlic crouton as appetizers. My culinary journey started with grilled pacific prawns, avocado and a Dungeness crab risotto. The risotto perfectly cooked, not to soft, captured the seafood flavour of the finely sheared crab. The bite sized prawns, grilled just lopng enough to sear in the juices, melted like butter in my mouth.
Executive Chef Michael Noble clearly knows what he's doing. As part of Team Canada, Noble has competed at the World Culinary Olympics held in Berlin, where he helped win three gold and three bronze medals. His philosophy: simple ingredients.
"I'm impassioned by fresh, organic local ingredients," the candid chef remarks over the sizzling sounds that could be heard percolating in his Waldorf-style kitchen.
If you're after even fresher foods, head down to Granville Island. Situated on a peninsula, Granville Island Market harvests art and food every season of the year. Buskers gather, artists paint portraits and musicians strum guitars as visitors stroll through the busy market. There's the Granville Island Brewery, a microbrewery open for mini tours and free sampling. Call ahead to find out times: (604)-687-2739. At the market, (closed on Mondays), local specialties like chanterelle mushrooms, fresh salmon chilling on ice with oysters, shrimp and ocean trout are fast picks.
After sampling cheeses, and munching on fresh bread, I bought some smoked salmon strips, smoked oysters and some locally cured goat cheese, then headed back to my hotel at the Metropolitan. By my pillow were two Hershey chocolate kisses and a note, the size of a recipe card, showing the face of a happy sun and the next day's forecast. It's going to be warm tomorrow.
As I sink my weary body onto the firm bed, a smile naturally emerges on my face. My eyes closed now, I start to dream of tomorrow. There's the Vancouver Art Gallery, Gastown, Stanley Park and still Chinatown left. Tomorrow. Tomorrow....