This is your indispensable companion to all that is hot, fresh and freaking delicious in Vancouver right now
*Snips ribbon and slides into loose-fitting pants*
I hereby declare it 'winterval'—let the unbridled holiday treats and eats commence!
God, I love the decadence of December. From peppermint candy canes and chocolate turtles to eggnog-in-everything and snacking on party canapés, it truly is the most magical time of the year (pauses to grab another slice of stollen). Eat, drink and be very merry all month and enjoy the delights of the season!
I’ll be back in February 2020, so grab those napkins 'cause it’s gonna get messy...
1. Slurp down all the soup
For me, winter weather means making a roast chicken lunch on Sunday, making stock with the bones and the week’s veggie scrapings (save ‘em in a bag in the freezer whenever you do prep), which gives me beautiful stock, layered in flavour and a million times better than any cube to make chicken soup. It also means I get to sing my favourite song from Alice in Wonderland as I mimic the Mock Turtle and stir up my soup ("Beautiful Sou-oop, Beautiful Sou-oop, Soup of the evening, Beautiful Sou-oop").
Of course, if you’re not in a cooking frame of mind, then get someone else to do all the work and go out for soup. Try Jules in Gastown for their killer French Onion topped with a soup-soaked slice of French bread and melted cheese. Feel decadent at Joe Fortes with their velvety Lobster Bisque spiked with brandy and cream. Or eat your feelings at Burgoo with their Straight Up Tomato, a sophisticated alternative to Campbell's with garlic and red wine that’s drizzled with EVOO.
2. Awesome book alert
I should say upfront that I’m friends with the authors of this book and have watched with awe over the past few years as they’ve worked to create something incredible with tawâw: Progressive Indigenous Cuisine. Chef Shane Chartrand and Jennifer Cockrall-King’s book is stuffed cover to cover with delicious recipes. It includes fascinating personal stories and positively lickable photos, taking in chef Shane’s exploration into his own Cree roots, learning from other First Nations across Canada and honouring his adoptive Métis and Mi’kmaw-Irish parents with stories of his early days learning to hunt, fish, garden and raise livestock. There’s plenty of ‘fancy’ dishes to impress (including the award-winning War Paint dish featured on the cover), but there’s a lot for easy home cooking too— Shane’s dad’s Galette receipe looks set to be a keeper. It's perfect for Christmas gifts and an essential addition to your own cookbook library.
3. Drink all the eggnog
The second the calendar turns from November to December, I have an all-nog-all-the-time policy. Obviously, at home it has to be Avalon (usually splashed in the morning coffee or later in the day shaken over ice with gin) 'cause that shizz is straight-up delicious. But if I’m heading out for #boozenog, then I recommend you check out the following...
UVA has a house-made Lemon Hart-spiced rum nog on their menu, rich with vanilla and spices and garnished with a bruléed ladyfinger.
YEW seafood + bar is serving up their brilliant Cog Nog again in those super-Instagramable moose mugs (pictured). Spiked with cognac, this manages to be fancy and fun. And while you're there, grab one of their incredible stollens, available for $31 per loaf until Christmas.
I loved it last year so am happy that the Lobby Lounge at the Fairmont Pacific Rim is bringing back their house-made Spiked Eggnog dosed with Spanish brandy and aged rum.
Oh, and although I’m not especially a beer fan, I hear that Storm Brewing has an Eggnog Latte Stout on their menu which has "subtle nog/coffee flavours."
4. Eat all the squash
Is there a more seasonally appealing winter veg than butternut squash? It’s such a tasty superstar on the plate and plays so well with everything from bacon to burrata. I’m still obsessed with the butternut squash and chickpea curry recipe I discovered last year, but these restaurant squash dishes are pretty legit too.
Both Bufala locations are serving up what sounds like squash perfection on a plate: roasted delicata squash with Italian burrata, spiced hazlenuts and sage with toasted sourdough; it comes with or without prosciutto.
Chicha has a Peruvian take with their empanada, which comes stuffed with kale, maple-glazed roasted butternut squash, Aji Amarillo paste and cream cheese, all wrapped in soft delicate pastry.
I love that my favourite carnitas shop, Chancho on Davie is doing a veggie option for those who don’t eat pork—very cool! Their veggie taco comes with a mix of delicious roasted squash. Get some!
Finally, the Neverland Tea House is doing butternut squash croquettas at their High Tea. A friend tells me that they’re stuffed with a "butternut squash purée scented with baking spices like clove and nutmeg which tasted sweet and holiday-ish." Yum!
5. Face plant into tortière
St. LawrenceHoliday eating doesn’t get any better than a tortière, French-Canada’s carb-tastic gift to the world. Rich, crumbly, buttery pastry enveloping an aromatic spiced blend of slow-cooked beef, pork, veal or even game, I’m actually drooling just thinking about it. There are, I think, as many recipes out there as French-Canadians (and don’t ever try and get into an argument with someone about which is authentic), but in Vancouver the pie king is surely chef JC Poirier at St. Lawrence whose superlative game tortière is likely one of the world’s best.
If you want an at-home experience (i.e. eating a whole damn judgment-free pie in your PJs), then see if you can score one from Les Amis du Fromages (they usually sell out alarmingly fast, but give it a go). Failing that, the frozen ones from Tartine are great, the Shop at Two Rivers in North Van has them and, of course, they are amazing. And I’m told that Savary Island in West Vancouver do a kick-ass one too. Bon appétit!
6. Buy better butter
Nancy WongMy Vancouver Christmas tradition is pretty simple: every year on Christmas Eve after a soothing yin class, I take the boat to Granville Island to stock up on all the treats that make the festive season so tasty. Stop No. 1 is always Benton Brothers to get a pack of Beurre d’Isigny, a fantastically rich and flavourful cultured butter from Normandy, France. At 82 percent butterfat, this is a world away from the usual watery butter that Western Canadians have learned to live with. Spread it thickly on a slice of something wonderful from Terra Bread and prepare for your world to be rocked.
7. Go to all the fun things
God, I love chocolate truffles, and Earl Grey ones are my favourites! Learn how to make tea-infused chocolate truffles with Silk Road Tea that are vegan, and dairy-and gluten-free! The class is $10 and you need to RSVP to reserve your space.
Have some fun and do some good on Thursday, December 5th at Pavilion Co-Working (Mount Pleasant area) at a wine-tasting and food-pairing night hosted by Fable Home with event profits going to MealShare. The event will feature three Portuguese wines with Portuguese-inspired snacks from Juno Kim. Every guest will be greeted with a welcome cocktail or Windfall Cider to kick off the night.
This event on December 19th at the Stanley Park Dining Pavilion sounds like a can’t-miss: "Bitter Truths delves into artisanal alcohol infusions, where we craft bitters from ethically sourced plants native to Stanley Park… Try a cocktail with pre-prepared bitters at this session, then take home your own creations as well as bottled liquors we’ll have on sale."
8. Book the Holiday Shokai at Minami
MinamiHanding this one over to my editor, Janine, as she got to go out and revel in this deliciousness at Minami…
If you’re looking for a deliciously decadent holiday meal, this is it! Available now until December 30th, the Holiday Shokai menu ($110) with sake pairing (+$40) at Minami in Yaletown makes for a very special night out. The meal kicks off with an amuse bouche of Fraser Valley Chicken and Pork Terrine with the yummiest little aonori rice crisp; then comes the sushi, including Aburi Salmon Oshi (always a favourite), Aburi Ebi Oshi, Red Wave Roll, Japanese Wagyu, Miso Kamo and Toro; then a surf and turf main featuring Sous Vide Scallop Mousseline and Tenderloin with Foie Gras. Oh, and dessert (pictured)! Dig into the most beautiful Ruby Chocolate Strawberry Basil Mousse with the cutest little toadstool Pavlova. You're guaranteed to leave full and happy!
9. Don’t miss Dine Out
Tourism VancouverSeventeen days of deliciousness kick off on January 17th for the Dine Out Vancouver Festival and events tickets are already on sale. There are some thrilling times to be had, such as the World Chef Exchange at Salmon & Bannock, who’ll be hosting an all-Indigenous team with Maori Chef Rewi Spraggon from Auckland, New Zealand and Edmonton's Chef Shane Chartrand. A weekly sustainable seafood walking tour with Ocean Wise taking in 4 to 5 restaurants, led by staff from Ocean Wise. And a five-course, B.C.-wine-paired Long Table Dinner series at Hawksworth in their private York Room. Plus, of course, all the special brunch, lunch and dinner menus priced at $15, $25, $35 and $45, which get revealed on January 9th.
10. Future fun planning alert
One of the most fun events on the B.C. wine calendar is back and early bird tickets are on sale now for Chef Meets BC Grape until January 6th. The event features hundreds of B.C. VQA wines paired with small plates from top chefs at some of the best restaurants in Western Canada and will be rolling into Vancouver (April 9th), Victoria (April 16th) and Calgary (April 23rd). Treat yo’ self to an out-of-town event! It will be like doing the best culinary city tour ever—and, by getting tickets now, when April rolls around, who even remembers paying for these things?! So it's a double treat!
11. Dine like a critic
Leila KwokI saw that legendary Globe & Mail restaurant critic Alex Gill has launched a new private food tour company, Dine Like a Critic, so I asked her to tell us all about it...
"I thought if I’m going to do this, I have to do it differently than every other food tour out there. These are high-end culinary hops (think of it as an extravagant tasting menu on chauffeured wheels) with premium food and drinks (and many off-menu surprises). These are exclusive experiences and quite pricey—starting at $300 per person, mostly because I’m not asking for discounts (that would be a conflict of interest) and the cost of transportation is so high, so I only book private groups and I only include restaurants where I would go myself on a night off or recommend to friends.
"Next year I’m launching a new monthly dinner series featuring foods you can’t get elsewhere (wild and cultivated B.C. truffles) and some of my favourite chefs who don’t work in restaurants.
"And in January I’m starting The Crazy RICHmond Foodie Tour. I have so many ideas for Richmond! The Asian food is amazing, yet tricky to navigate. It took me 10 years to figure it out (and I’m still constantly learning). But come with me for a day and I’ll give you a fabulous introduction."