(This is Part 1 of our Tour of Vancouver, B.C. Read Vancouver 2: TaiwanFest Granville Island, Stanley Park After Dark & More):
What are the key elements of an ideal travel destination? How about magnificent scenery, abundant seafood, a diverse international vibe, well-rated regional wines, and good coffee close at hand? Look no further than Vancouver. All the good bits are here, seamlessly flowing together, in this coastal gem of a city.
Located on green and lush Burrard Peninsula,the land gently rolls and the climate is the mildest in Canada. Vancouver is a major tourist destination and a powerhouse of a port, bringing in tourists as well as trade goods from across the world. Canada Place, with its distinctive rooftop of fabric “sails,” sits on the Burrard Inlet waterfront and is home to a busy cruise ship terminal, a hotel, and the city’s Convention Centre. Alaska-bound tourists disembark here to explore upscale shops and restaurants in the downtown area.
West of Canada Place in Coal Harbour, floatplanes arrive and depart throughout the day, carrying visitors from Vancouver Island (not to be confused with the city) and the resort town of Whistler.
We strolled the scenic shoreline and wandered into Lift Bar and Grill. Its striking mid-century “hip” architecture provides expansive floor-to-ceiling views of nearby Stanley Park, the adjacent marina and the North Shore Mountains. From our table we watched as scullers from a local rowing club got in their afternoon practice.
Our lunch consisted of an array of sharing plates: crispy tempura prawns, ripe tomato and burrata salad, halibut tacos, an assortment of fresh salmon, tuna and lobster maki.
By now it was the mid-afternoon, and we were feeling the urge for dessert, or coffee, or both. Taking the advice of one of the locals, we headed back along the waterfront to find Bella Gelateria on West Cordova Street near Canada Place. This small-batch, artisanal gelateria is a heavy-weight in the world of Italian ice cream. In May it won the North American Gelato World Tour Championship in Austin, Texas, and garnered top awards over the last few years at the biggest international competitions in Italy, competing head-to-head with that country’s best. This does not mean, however, that they are sticking to traditional flavors. On the day we were there, the ever-changing menu, made with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, included Akbar Mashti (a Persian favorite made with saffron and rosewater), black sesame, organic green tea matcha, and lavender. My favorite: the salted, toasted pecan, is served with a drizzle of Canadian maple syrup. (I’ll take another scoop, please!)
How good is the gelato here? Part of our group had just returned from visiting family in Italy, where they had eaten gelato at places in and around Rome and along the Amalfi Coast. They judged the gelato at Bella Gelateria to be every bit as good or better than what they had eaten in Italy–buonissimo! We finished with a little of BG’s Illy espresso, and I was set for the rest of the afternoon. By the time our group was done, the line for gelato was wrapped around the corner of the building.
Looking for more coffee possibilities in the city? You could be blindfolded and find them here. Vancouverites mirror Seattle, their seaport neighbor to the south, in their affinity for a good cup of java. Of course, the ubiquitous Starbucks locations can be found throughout the city, but regional chains and local coffee bars abound, including JJ Bean, Cafe Artigiano, Blenz, Bean Around the World and Mario’s.
The rest of the afternoon, we strolled the nearby streets of Vancouver’s Yaletown, a former warehouse district, now home to trendy restaurants, lively cocktail bars, and higher-end shopping. This is a young, hip part of Vancouver, and you can feel the energy.
There are so many opportunities in Vancouver to experience fresh and well-prepared seafood, but one place is mentioned everywhere as the premiere destination for raw oysters, fabulous sushi and superb fish. In a sea of upscale eateries, the quality, expertise and cool, sophisticated ambience of Yaletown’s Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar is a cut above the rest. We started with a sampling of the six varieties of oysters that were available from their unbelievably extensive “seafood on ice” menu. Our favorites were the Black Pearl from nearby Quadra Island: firm, buttery yet slightly herbaceous, with a gentle brine–so good, we ordered another round of these for the table.
My broiled scallops were tender and flavorful, though the accompanying diced endive seemed overcooked and did not add the counterpoint that I had hoped for. (What if those pert little oval heads had been sliced in half end-to-end and quickly seared?) John’s sturgeon was impeccably grilled, accompanied by a pleasant shock of purple potatoes and bright greens.
Too tired (and full) to navigate the city’s public transit system back to our hotel, we caught a taxi and started firming up plans for the remainder of our visit. More days to come, and so much more to do and see.
Eat. Drink. Play. Repeat.
333 Menchions Mews
Vancouver, BC V6G 3H5
1001 West Cordova Street
Vancouver, BC V6C 0B7
1095 Hamilton Street
Yaletown, Vancouver, BC V6B 5T4