We're continuing our quest to try all of the best dim sum spots in Vancouver/Richmond, and it's turning out to be an awesome excuse to stop by what is quickly becoming one of our favorite cities. On our most recent trip up across the border, we came up with a pretty decent 24-hour itinerary:
8:30 a.m. Cafe Besalu
Get your day started with pain au chocolat perfection at this quaint Ballard bakery. An 8:30 a.m. visit should have you there before the crowds get to their usual insane lengths, but don't linger for more than one double tall americano... hit the road by 9 a.m. so you can get through the border crossing in time for dim sum.
10:30 a.m. Peace Arch - Blaine, WA
Smile at the officer, bring your identification, don't make any jokes. When they ask you why you're going to Canada, tell them the truth... you're going to eat your way through the city.
11:00 a.m. First stop: Dim Sum (Richmond or Vancouver)
This trip, we hit the Vancouver location of Sun Sui Wah so La Verne could compare it to the Richmond branch. According to La Verne, the Richmond location is clearly superior. That's not to say this visit wasn't without its highlights. Among them:
Braised tofu with enoki mushrooms and nori. Deep fried tofu topped with enoki mushrooms and wrapped with nori, then braised in a rich, thickened chicken broth. Warm and satisfying, with a soup-like consistency from the absorption of broth into the tofu and enoki.
Deep fried savory taro dumpling (mashed taro, stuffed with shiitake mushrooms, shrimp and pork). Sun Sui Wah has a special skill with the fried items. The exterior of this dumpling was impossibly crispy, comprised of an effervescent lattice of texture. Not at all greasy (which tends to be the norm with this dim sum item at lesser places)... really superb, clean flavors.
Deep fried glutinous rice dumpling. My absolute favorite, this is pretty much the greatest dim sum item ever... magically transcending the barriers between sweet and savory, chewy and crispy... a profound study of mind-bending contrasts. Again, showcasing Sun Sui Wah's mastery of deep frying, I've never had a version of these dumplings that was quite as impossibly crispy on the exterior while at the same time having only a minimal amount of residual grease.
12:30 p.m. Chinatown Markets
After enjoying your dim sum feast, walk off the meal by touring through the Chinatown area in Vancouver. You'll come across all sorts of interesting food products; some of them are pretty tame, others more adventurous. Pay attention to your whereabouts, as Chinatown is adjacent to some of the grittier parts of Vancouver. We spotted a couple of used hypodermic needles by the sidewalk just a few blocks from these dried squid:
Fresh live blue crabs... a little odd to see these on the west coast. They must have been flown in from the Atlantic.
You'll also see some slightly more intense things, like this bucket of live yellow eels (the adult form of the American eel). Random fact: females can reach a maximum length of five feet, and males grow as long as two feet.
Ah, and back to some sights of things we're more accustomed to, like these roast ducks hanging in the window of the butcher shop.
1:30 p.m. Head off to Stanley Park
Stay active and explore the expansive forested sanctuary of Stanley Park. At just about 1,000 acres in size, Stanley Park is one of the great urban parks in North America, just a mile from downtown Vancouver. You could spend hours here exploring the forest and the waterfront by car, foot or bicycle. We visited just in time to catch the tail end of the intense, symphonic array of fall colors.
Take a bit of time to check out the shopping scene on Robson (H&M is coming in the beginning of 2008, ensuring that Lav will be ready to visit at any time), then head over to Yaletown, Vancouver's uber-trendy converted warehouse district. Lots of cool little boutiques to visit and a good smattering of bars and restaurants. Stop by Rodney's Oyster House for freshly shucked oysters... $1 each if you can make it before happy hour ends at 6 p.m.8 p.m. Parkside on Haro
Vancouver has a fantastic dining scene and no shortage of very good restaurants. Parkside on Haro is one of the real gems among neighborhood restaurant options. Located just a few blocks from Robson Street, the restaurant is nestled in the lower level of a building along an otherwise wholly-residential street. If not for the glowing blue sign, you'd probably walk right past it. Reminicent of an Upper East Side supper club from the outside, the place has tons of warmth and charm on the inside, casually sophisticated in its cuisine and atmosphere.
Japanese mushroom consommé, wild boar gyoza
Napoleon of wild sockeye salmon, crisp potato, chive crème fraîche, pickled girolles and leeks
Quail ravioli with sage butter and black truffle
Paglia e fieno with wild boar bacon peas and chanterelles
Roast loin of red deer, celeriac purée, red currant jelly & mustard, brussel sprouts, bacon & walnuts
Panna cotta with wild mountain huckleberries
10:30 p.m. To the B&B
After dinner, head back to your bed and breakfast (instead of staying at one of the numerous posh but sterile hotels in the area) and relax with a bottle of scotch or port in the quaint charm of a slower, simpler Vancouver from days gone by.
The Barclay House is a good option, with comfortable and tastefully decorated rooms, champagne and fresh baked cookies when you check in, and a simple, flavorful breakfast to send on your way the next day, along with plenty of genuine smiles from the friendly staff.