R&B Brewing Co.

R&B brewery

R&B Brewing has been in East Van since 1997, and it’s expanded in the last year to include the Ale & Pizza House under the same roof. When we visited last summer, the interior of the new space was finished, but it wasn’t open yet because the restaurant license hadn’t come through at the time.

When we visited earlier in March, the place was in full swing; a hotbed of hipsterdom with casually stylish folks nursing beers and eating pizzas as curated music grooved through the room via the many surrounding speakers. The atmosphere is like the living room of a culture vulture: records on display, a piano near the bar with sheet music, book shelves above a seating area, and tables made of reclaimed wood. The dining space was full, and more people kept coming in. Luckily, we were able to snag a corner at the bench seating by the windows. We ordered several tasting flights, and the two standouts for me were the Raven Cream Ale and the Dude Chilling Pale Ale.

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Nero Belgian Waffle Bar

We’ve passed by Nero Belgian Waffle Bar many times. It’s in our neighborhood, and we looked upon it as part of the local scenery, without ever venturing inside.

Oh, what we were missing.

We had a Liège for the first time just in the last few weeks. We walked over after dinner with friends on Robson Street, and they introduced us to these lovely, sweet waffles. They’re small and dense and filled with a bit of cream. And butter. I tasted a lot of butter.

They’re amazing.

I don’t tend to be blown away by sweets (my palate loves savory dishes), but these babies are sublime. They’re so good, you have to eat one to understand. Then, you’ll be hooked.

The outlet on Robson has a tiny dining space, so I recommend buying a box of Liège and savoring at your leisure at home.

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Vij’s in Vancouver

Vijs appetizers

The ricotta-stuffed naan and squash appetizers at Vij’s.

Before we leave Vancouver, which, alas, is soon, we’re making it a point to try restaurants that have been on our radar. Vij’s, now in Cambie Village, is one of them. Vij’s has a great reputation around town (as well as in Toronto, from what we overheard from fellow diners). The man behind the restaurant is a friend of Anthony Bourdain and has appeared on “No Reservations”.

We had dinner at Vij’s on Saturday, and, as their website does warn, there was a line when we walked up to the restaurant a little after 5 p.m. Reservations aren’t allowed, so it’s typical for a line to form before the 5:30 p.m. opening time.

Thankfully, the line was short when we showed up, with only a few people waiting in front of us. We waited about 20 min. before the doors opened, and a server came out while we were waiting to offer everyone fries in a coating of paprika and salt. I don’t remember what the server said the fries were made of, but I’m guessing by the texture and taste that they were cassava or taro fries.

Vijs lamb posicles

The lamb popsicles entree at Vij’s.

The dining room reminded me of being on a cruise ship. Now, I’ve never actually been on a cruise ship, but the open dining room, the arrangement of the tables and the pattern on the carpet had the look and feel of a cruise ship space. Lanterns with a cutout pattern made for romantic lighting.

Once we were seated, a server came by and offered pakoras to everyone in the dining room. Everyone was also served chai. I give the restaurant high points for hospitality because of these gestures.

We ordered the appetizer special of the evening: ricotta-stuffed naan. Two of the pieces were overly charred, but all in all, I thought the combo of the ricotta and what tasted like chickpea paste was delicious. It was a good combo with our other appetizer, Vij’s Monarch Butterfly, which is raw sugar and ghee braised squash with wood ear mushrooms in a coconut milk sauce that we used as a dip for the stuffed naan.

Vijs duck breast

The duck breast entree at Vij’s.

For the entrees, we had the lamb popsicles and the duck breast. Both were good, but given the restaurant’s reputation, we were expecting more inventive takes, like what we saw with certain dishes at Hawksworth. Our entrees were served in curry sauces, red for the duck breast and a citrus-y cream for the lamb.

The mains come with long-grain rice and naan sides. The server will give you more sides with no extra charge, so you’ll definitely be full.

The verdict: A very good, classy, filling meal with points for hospitality, although the menu wasn’t as inventive as we expected.

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Baked Oysters

Baked oysters

When we came back from our last trip to Qualicum Bay on Vancouver Island, we brought a bunch of oysters home that we plucked from the beach ourselves. Ah, the memories. These babies were huge, and every time I think about them, I long for more. They were a delight to discover, harvest and, of course, eat.

What to do with the oysters we brought home?

We thought about one of the recipes my father is most proud of, which is his recipe for baked mussels. He prepares a bath of butter for the mussels and tops them with Parmesan, dried basil and crispy minced garlic.

We applied his technique to the beach oysters and accented it with our own touches: hot peppers, bacon and fresh basil.

The basics: Melt some butter on the stove top and saute minced garlic in the butter, then spoon this mix into the open shell of each oyster so it coats and surrounds the meat. Saute some chopped bacon and also spoon this onto the oysters. Sprinkle some chopped banana peppers (or hot sauce) and Parmesan shavings on each oyster, and garnish with chopped fresh basil. Bake in the oven for 10-20 min., depending on desired texture. The result is a juicy seafood delight.

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Scallop Coral

Scallop coral

When we moved to Vancouver, we had visions of going diving and bringing up bags of scallops. Alas, we have yet to see a scallop in the waters of British Columbia.

But there’s always the supermarket. And T&T, a major Asian grocery chain in Vancouver, is a good place to get scallops. Clearly, not the same as harvesting them yourself, but the scallops are fresh nonetheless.

We treated ourselves to a batch a few weeks ago, sauteed in butter. We’ve never opened scallops before and found it’s difficult to slice the flesh off perfectly if you’re new to the practice.

We also discovered that inside the shell is a big pink sac next to the scallop meat. We did a little sleuthing and discovered that this is what’s called coral, and it’s a part of the scallop that you can eat. I recommend tasting the coral if you shuck scallops yourself. It has a similar texture to roe.

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Hawksworth raviolo

The beef neck raviolo starter at Hawksworth.

Chef David Hawksworth is a big name in the culinary world of Vancouver. His signature restaurant, Hawksworth, housed inside the Rosewood Hotel Georgia with a view of the Vancouver Art Gallery across West Georgia St., is widely considered the best restaurant in the city. We haven’t had a burning urge to try it because it seemed stuffy from the outside, but we figured we might as well check it off the list. So, we celebrated Valentine’s Day early by dining at Hawksworth last Saturday.

A note about attire: There’s no strict dress code here, but everyone dresses up. If you’re in casual clothing, though, no worries; you won’t raise eyebrows.

Another tip: This is a highly popular restaurant, so book reservations at least a few days ahead.

We arrived for the first seating of the evening at 5 p.m., so we got to see the servers getting ready for the night, setting the tables and putting the finishing touches on things. We ordered cocktails at the bar (a Sazerac and a champagne cocktail) and were well seated at a corner table.

Hawksworth foie gras

The foie gras starter at Hawksworth.

Our waiter was friendly and ready to answer questions (I always like to ask about ingredients and prep if I really like a dish). We started off with appetizers of beef neck raviolo and foie gras, both of which were excellent. The raviolo was relatively small in size but stuffed with shredded beef neck and a bit of bone marrow. I loved the foie gras; it’s been so long since I’ve had it, and I relished its unctuousness. Foie gras isn’t a common item on upscale menus in Vancouver, and it was a treat to have it here. It has the flavor and texture of a hardier bone marrow, and it was served on a type of French toast that was soaked in milk or cream, so the textures and flavors of the foie gras and the toast played off each other beautifully.

Hawksworth sturgeon

The sturgeon main at Hawksworth.

For the mains, we had the sturgeon and the lamb saddle. The sturgeon was prepared with a Vietnamese lemongrass treatment and served with slices of cucumber. I’ve never had sturgeon before, and it was a new texture for me; quite toothsome for a fish yet still tender, kind of like lobster or perfectly cooked squid. The lamb saddle literally looked like a saddle; a creative, playful dish. The lamb was served as rolled medallions with a thin layer of (I’m guessing here) ground peppercorns inside. The potato side to the lamb was clever, with thin layers of potato rolled up together–a technique playing off the lamb saddle concept, perhaps–and packed with butter for lots of flavor.

Hawksworth lamb saddle

The lamb saddle main at Hawksworth.

We didn’t order dessert–we were looking forward to blondies topped with ice cream at home–but the waiter did give us a little goodie bag of mini chocolate loaf treats as a parting gift.

The verdict: I now understand the fuss. Hawksworth demonstrates technical mastery, inventiveness and beauty. The prices may be high, but it’s worth trying if you’re willing to splurge.

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Dine Out Vancouver Part III: Edible Canada

seal tenderloin

The seal tenderloin amuse bouche.

We used to walk right past Edible Canada when we were on Granville Island, thinking it was a tourist stop that wouldn’t hold anything interesting for us. But this store selling Canadian foodstuffs is attached to a restaurant that surprised us with an inventive menu for Dine Out Vancouver.

Seal was on the list, from Nova Scotia, I believe. The restaurant only offered seal during Dine Out Vancouver, and it caused a ruckus among those who think eating seals is inhumane. There is, however, a tradition of seal hunting in Canada, and Edible Canada chose to put it on the menu to showcase what it considers local, sustainable food.

I’m all for trying new things, so we ordered two seal dishes. The first was the seal tenderloin amuse bouche on what tasted like a white bean puree.  The fillets had the texture of fat and tasted similar to liver. It was certainly a new flavor, and I don’t know what to make of it yet; I didn’t love it, but I didn’t not like it either. I did think the bison tartare appetizer was tastier, possibly because it was very similar to flavors I’m used to; it had a lightness and taste like tuna tartare.

bison tartare

The bison tartare appetizer.

The seal pappardelle entree was our second seal dish. The seal was ground and served in a ragu with the noodles. The flavor was very different from the raw tenderloin appetizer. In this dish, the seal had the texture of ground beef, with a very lean, gamey flavor. I did like this dish; maybe it was better on my palate because it was served in a familiar bolognese style.

seal pappardelle

Seal pappardelle.

As for dessert, I got the chocolate pot du creme, which tasted almost exactly like the ganache I make at home, just topped with a blueberry compote.

Overall, I was impressed with the classy meal at Edible Canada, as well as the willingness of the restaurant to serve dishes that would challenge diners’ opinions and palates.

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