A Vancouver Birthday
As most people who know us know, in a quirky coincidence we share a birthday: April 28. I often say this means we can never forget one another’s special day (though it also means someone always has to be cooking their own breakfast on their birthday morning!)
Since our birthday fell on a Saturday this year, we decided to stash the critter with my parents and head up for a night in one of our favorite cities, Vancouver, BC. We head north every couple of months – aided by our acquisition last year of the fast-track NEXUS passes to avoid the border wait – to hit up beloved sandwich spots (Meat & Bread), score some world class coffee (49th Parallel in Kits) and get yelled at in Japanese while chomping on briny delicacies (Kingyo Izakaya.)
This time, we splurged a bit on a room at OPUS, a trendy boutique hotel in the sleek Yaletown neighborhood. After checking in, we headed out to West Point Grey for dinner.
We did our usual research when looking for a restaurant worth of birthday dinner. We wanted some place a bit nicer than average, though not bank-breaking, while guaranteed to be a memorable meal. Rigorous searching turned up La Quercia, a casual Italian bistro with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients, a bit off the beaten path out on West 4th but ranked on top restaurant lists by numerous Vancouver publications. It was also nearly impossible to secure seats there, as when we called several weeks in advance we were fortunate to snag the last two spots at the bar at 9pm.
We opted for the $45, seven-course menu “alla famiglia” (there’s also an 11-course option for $60 that includes a fish course, a risotto course and a cheese course – too much!). Similar to omakase with sushi, we simply sat back and ate at the chef’s whim. We started with vitello tonnato, thinly sliced veal with a savory “tuna mayo.” This was followed by a butter lettuce with anchovy-egg dressing and then a killer bone marrow dish where the marrow was mixed with ground veal, returned to the bone and then broiled and served with pickled vegetables.
The two pasta courses were handmade radicchio and walnut mezzaluna with Gorgonzola and potato gnocchi with porcini mushrooms, followed by the main course of local lamb shoulder, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, resting atop a chunky caponata. Practically stuffed (seriously, who could manage 11 courses??) we finished with a small cake served with whipped cream and rhubarb compote.
We were more than satisfied with our choice for dinner. The service was stellar and we cleaned our plates for every course. You can also order a la carte, though if you go I’d highly encourage the alla famiglia menu – it’s such a great deal for that breadth of food.
How to recover from a meal like that? The next morning, we kept it simple with 49th Parallel espresso at Coffeebar in Gastown with a housemade almond croissant and a bacon-cheddar biscuit. After a spin through the up-and-coming shopping district of Main Street in the neighborhood of Mt. Pleasant, we made our way to Chinatown and the infamous Phnom Penh.
Thanks to research of local blogs, we knew to order the deep fried chicken wings and the Beef Luc Lac on Rice with Egg, with a Mango Moo Shake on the side. Ho.ly.Mo.ses. If you like chicken wings, this is a must-visit. Salty, peppery and garlicky as heck, it’s easy to see why they’ve earned a rabid following. The luc lac was addictive, too: savory marinated beef topped with a perfectly cooked fried egg atop a mound of rice. We waited a solid half an hour for a table at 2pm, and the restaurant never slowed down the entire time we were there.
It’s easy to obsess over the food, but part of the joy we get out of visiting Vancouver is simply driving around looking at the scenery, from the futuristic condo towers and urban soccer fields to the blossoming cherry trees and cobblestone streets. We’re lucky we live just a couple hours away.