This is your indispensable companion to all that is hot, fresh and freaking delicious in Vancouver right now

After a tough winter (WTF with all that snow?), we are finally tilting closer to the sun and green things are making their way back into kitchens across the city once more. April is all about setting the scene for the incredible bounty that lies ahead. We can finally dive into those first delicious bites of spring such as rhubarb, asparagus and ramps. Best of all, the city will become even more Instagram-worthy as we swing into cherry blossom season, with those pretty pink pom-pom petals finding their way into cocktails and desserts. Take these two rules as your guiding principles as to what should be on your plate and in your glass: go green and think pink!

For everything fresh, floral, flavourful and freaking delicious, may I introduce my April selections for everything you need to be eating and drinking right now. As always, grab many napkins, things are gonna get messy...

 

1. Wildebeest gets "Refashioned"

WildebeestWildebeestAbout three years ago, James and Josh over at Wildebeest told me they had some madcap scheme to convert their downstairs private dining space into a bar serving up variations on the Old Fashioned cocktail. Well, that’s not quite what happened but this looks like an excellent alternative. Meet their Refashioned list: nine different spins on the classic four cocktail ingredients (sugar, bitters, alcohol, water). The list is split between showcasing top-shelf brands such as Booker’s Bourbon and Cazadores Añjeo to let their unique flavours shine through, and modern takes such as Henricks gin, lavender bitters, honey and cucumber or Bacon bourbon, aromatic bitters, maple syrup with an orange twist. Now, I’ve not tried any as of yet, but bearing in mind that Josh Pape couldn’t design a bad drink if he tried, I’m confident in saying that these are going to be insanely good and that by this time next year, we’ll all have our new favourite Old Fashioned.

 

2. Eat all the sustainable halibut

HalibutFacebook/WildebeestThe first of this season's halibut has swum into Vancouver kitchens and that means you need to go eat it right now. Ocean Wise superstar Chef Ned Bell says, “I am always so pumped for halibut season to begin every year; whether it's ceviche, crudo, baked, roasted or crispy fish 'n' chips. My go-to simple preparation is pan-seared and finished with butter, lemon and Vancouver Island smoked sea salt. Delish!”

Salmon ‘n’ Bannock is running a sous-vide halibut as a feature with a very delicious-sounding sweetgrass beurre blanc.

Double up at Provence, who has a "Poisson D’Avril" three-course prixe-fixe menu ($57) which features Rustique Soupe de la Mer (steelhead, halibut, sablefish, lardons, tomato broth, garlic crouton) as a starter and grilled line-caught halibut for a main.  

Wildebeest is featuring a B.C. halibut dish with my other seasonal superstar, stinging nettle, in a fish broth with locally foraged wild garlic, sautéed spring onions, fava beans, fresh peas and German butter potatoes.

Cioppino's has a nettles-and-halibut dish too with a Dungeness crab crust (mmmm!) and nettle sauce with asparagus on the side for that total spring experience.  

Royal Dinette is doing a fresh B.C. halibut dish in a Filipino-style Sinigang hot-and-sour fish broth.

Forage has a roasted halibut with grilled collar, pickled garlic scape arancini and stinging nettle nage.

 

3. Give in to Nettlemania

NettleFacebook/The AcornI’d never eaten nettles until I had them in a risotto at Forage a few years back, which turned me into a raving nettle-fiend. If you’ve had them, you know what I mean and if you’ve yet to try them, oh wow—do you have a treat in store!

Here are a few spots across town where you can enjoy their unique bright and peppery, spinach-like taste and enjoy a Vitamin C and iron boost along the way. 

Awesome chef Andrea Carlson is serving up a ricotta and nettle gnudi with apple-browned butter at Burdock & Co. Try it with their brand new rosé and orange wine-only spring wine menu. 

Farmer’s Apprentice is featuring an early spring nettle and potato soup.  

L’Abattoir has a pasta stuffed with ricotta and herbs, with nettles, wild mushroom and toasted oats.

Torafuku is doing a mushrooms with nettles pesto on sourdough toast special.

The Acorn is featuring a very cool double of stinging nettle gnocchi with cultured cream, blueberry and hazelnut mostarda, pearl onions and bittercress to pair with the Iron Kiss cocktail made with Odd Society Wallflower gin, Cocchi Americano Bianco Vermouth, chamomile tincture and Stinging Nettle and iron elixir, topped with brut.  

Chef Wes Young over at Pidgin is pondering a few nettles options: “Possibly a soup with shellfish, such as razor clams for the more adventurous diner, or maybe just with some nice prosciutto or some of the house bacon. Braised and mixed in with pig's face for gyozas is something for maybe the older nettles as the season moves along.”

 

4. Raise a glass to Malbec World Day on April 17

Malbec World DayMalbec World DayThe wines of Argentina are throwing a big ol’ Malbec tasting party this month and you are invited to join. There are free Argentinean wine tastings at private stores and select BC Liquor stores throughout the month and it’s a great chance to get to know this Argentine grape a little better.


Try Pascual Tosa’s Limited Edition Malbec, which has the most beautiful inky colour, a smooth finish with plenty of bright plummy fruit and notes of vanilla and smoky oak. If you prefer something a little more floral, Catena’s Malbec comes from high-altitude vines in Mendoza and has the most beautiful whoosh of violets with juicy fruit in the middle and a pleasingly furry-tongued finish.


Try some of the Malbec blends too: Amado Sur blends Malbec with Syrah and Bonarda to create a juicy, chocolatey wine with plenty of structure that worked wonderfully with roast lamb. You can find out more online at @ArgentinaWineCA but my tip is for Marquis Wine Cellars on Davie Street, who’ll be pouring 100 per cent Malbec and Malbec blends to pair with Panderia Latina Bakery empanadas, along with funky Argentinian tunes from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 8.

 

5. Eat across Canada with a copy of Feast: Recipes & Stories from a Canadian Road Trip

FEAST: Recipes & Stories from a Canadian Road TripPenguin Random House CanadaLooking for the perfect food-lover’s gift to mark Canada’s 150th? I think I just found it for you: the Feast cookbook by Vancouverites Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller is just fabulous. Threaded around the narrative of a coast-to-coast-to-coast road trip exploring Canadian culinary culture, this gorgeous cook-and-culture book is packed with great recipes, beautiful photographs and smart storytelling. I can already see some future favourites after flicking my way through the pages and drooling along the way. From Eggs Galiano, Sour Cherry and Ricotta Perogies and Barbecued Salmon with Tree Tip Pesto to Arctic Apple Fritters and the Roasted Concord Grape Mimosa, I can’t wait to get cooking. It's available now online.

 

6. Say hello to the Casablanca Crêpe: Taste of Morocco

Morocco CrepeFacebook/Casablanca Crepe taste of MoroccoThe West End is bristling with new openings right now and I spotted a gem tucked away in the Robson Public Market that you have to check out. It’s incredibly basic but very delicious—the concept is crispy crêpe-based Moroccan cuisine by Sam Elaloui (ex-Urban Tea Merchants). He has a deft hand for desserts (his madelines are phenomenal) and is whipping up favourites from his home country. Open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sam’s serving up breakfast crêpes such as an eggs Benedict in an aromatic tomato sauce ($5.95), plenty of sweet dessert options (I’m gonna check out the honey-candied nuts one next time) and an excellent chicken tagine crêpe ($7.95). Also on offer: authentic Moroccan couscous dishes and some of the best mint tea I’ve had in years. Pop by, say welcome to the 'hood and grab a tasty crêpe while you’re there.

 

7. Make a res for a special event

ReservationsSpor Prawn FestivalThe Chefs' Table Society of British Columbia is back for its eleventh Spot Prawn Festival on Saturday, May 13, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at False Creek Fishermen’s Wharf. Tickets for this popular event are on sale now for $17.50 (plus tax and service charge), which buys you a plate of three super-sustainable spot prawns plus sides, as well as samples from R&B Brewing and Evolve Cellars.

Campagnolo Roma is serving up another Quinto Quarto dinner, celebrating whole-animal eating with beers from Driftwood Brewing on April 26. Tickets are on sale now for $80, which includes six courses of delights such as lamb brain crepinette, pig's foot brodo and beef tendon marshmallow. Score your place at the table by calling the restaurant at 604-569-0456 or by sending an email to info@campagnoloroma.com.

The sixth annual Osoyoos Oyster Festival rides again between April 19 to 23, so head up for a thoroughly fantastic time eating and drinking in the Okanagan. Guinness World Record holder Shucker Paddy will be on hand again. As you can see from our report on last year’s festival, it’s a lot of fun, so treat yourself to an out-of-town trip and get shucked! 

Everyone’s favourite Jewish deli, Mensch, has found a new (hopefully permanent) home in Gastown at 212 Carrall Street. They’re hosting a Passover feast with “great traditional Jewish cuisine, lots of wine and good company.” The menu will include chicken matzo ball soup, borscht, chopped liver, gefilte fish and roasted chicken with apricots, and I’m told that the wine will run like water. Beer will be provided by Faculty Brewing and tickets are $95 (plus tax) per person.

Chicha is hosting a night of Japanese-Peruvian Nikkei-style dining on April 5th with guest chef Benjamin Akira Berwick and Chicha’s own Shelome Bouvette along with winemaker/winery owner Richard Kanazawa. The menu will include five courses, snacks, cocktails and wine pairings. Tickets are $100 per person. 

 

8. New happy hour alert

Gotham SteakhouseGotham SteakhouseGotham Steakhouse is launching a new 10 p.m.-to-late Thursday and Friday night happy hour with a DJ spinning classic vinyl soul, funk and jazz. The "Social Hour" menu will feature deals on draft beer, highballs, wine and champagne, and “midnight snacks,” including $4.50 prime beef sliders and (yay!) and $5 cheese toast. The bar team has created two special cocktails to celebrate: the gin, icewine and Galiano-spiked Afterglow and Midnight Espresso with crème de cacao, espresso syrup and vodka to keep the party going a little longer.

 

9. Celebrate sakura season

SakuraMiku RestaurantThe very smart Christina Cottell of Dixie’s and Gringo fame posted a Pablo Neruda poem on Facebook recently with the killer line, “...I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.” Well, I want to do that with these beautiful sakura-inspired treats... just kind of burst into them!

The Lobby Lounge at the Fairmont Pacific Rim has the "Sakura Sour" with VS Cognac, plum wine, lemon, maraschino liqueur and salted cherry blossom.

The Cascade Room is also celebrating with a cocktail feature from April through May 8th. This will commemorate the beautiful gifts of the cherry blossom trees from Japan and it is named after one of the largest tall ships in the world; the Kaiwo Maru. This ship will be visiting Steveston Harbour from May 3 through May 8 to commemorate Canada's 150th birthday. The drink will feature sake from Granville Island, Long Table cucumber gin, pickled cherry blossom, cherry blossom green tea from Tealeaves, yuzu and local honey. And, $1 will be donated from the sale of each drink to the BC Children’s Hospital. 

Miku and Minami have a special sakura roll (pictured) on their menu featuring scallop, sockeye salmon, asparagus, hamachi, shiso, pickled wasabi, golden tobiko and salted cherry blossom flowers.

Market by Jean-Georges will be featuring a $125 "Sakura and Sake" tasting menu all of April. Executive chef Ken Nakano credits his mother and the culinary lessons she imparted as inspiration for a spread that includes lobster chawan mushi with gold caviar, and for dessert, matcha white chocolate “Kit Kat” with Lillooet honey lemon ice cream and mochi (pictured at top of article). Plus, Market's own take on the "Sakura Sour" (great mixologists think alike!): junmai nama nigori sake, sakura-infused brandy, lychee, Japanese plum wine and strawberry mah kwan bitters.