February 6, 2008

In search of the $100 "baguette"

Some time ago, Lav was reading in her Vancouver city guide that Urban Fare, an upscale market in the Yaletown district of Vancouver, carried baguettes flown in from France, and that these "authentic" treasures could be yours for the simple price of $100 each. Now I know that Yaletown has quickly become a super trendy, ultra-monied neighborhood--Maserati and Ferrari sightings are not uncommon--but that was just about the dumbest, most unneccessarily extravagant thing I'd ever heard. So of course, I wanted to see it for myself.

Things have been relatively busy of late, and somehow three months have passed since our last visit to Vancouver. We always start our Vancouver day trips with a pain au chocolat from Cafe Besalu en route to a magnificent Vancouver-area dim sum excursion (reason enough to make the trip). This past weekend, we set our sights on the Richmond location of Sun Sui Wah. One of the things I like best about surveying the dim sum scene in Richmond/Vancouver is that there doesn't seem to be a clear-cut winner for which restaurant has the best dim sum; instead, each restaurant has its own unique strengths. Whereas Kirin (Richmond) has amazing steamed items and luxurious dishes (dumpling in shark's fin soup), and Sun Sui Wah (Vancouver) has a special touch with fried items, the Richmond location of Sun Sui Wah has mastered the element of texture.

Among the highlights were a spectacular dish of sauteed pea shoots and abalone mushroom, perfect pan-fried daikon radish cakes (lo bak go, 蘿蔔糕), incredibly velvety rice noodle rolls with shrimp (蝦腸), an impressively thin and delicate wrapper on the har gao (蝦餃), and unctuous tofu skin wrapped around pork (sin jyut gyun, 鮮竹捲).

We next took a little detour through the Punjabi Market area of Vancouver, a colorful commercial corridor full of Indian shops, restaurants, and grocery stores reflecting another dimension of Vancouver's diversity. We stepped into All India Sweets (half buffet restaurant, half dazzling array of colorful confections) to pick up a variety of sweet Indian treats, like milky Barfi flavored with pistachios and almonds and topped with varak (edible silver leaf), flaky Sohn Papri, rich Kaju Katri, and golden Besan... seems like Seattle should have a place like this, but I haven't found it yet.

We somehow always have fantastic luck with our trips to Vancouver. So far, we've never been stuck with any real waits at the border, and this time, I narrowly dodged a speeding ticket on the way up. We also were blessed with an unexpected spectacularly sunny day... which made for an ideal afternoon of roaming around Yaletown.

We found Urban Fare and eagerly stepped in to confront the $100 baguette in all its wastefully elitist ridiculousness... only to find out that it wasn't a baguette... it was a giant 4 pound sourdough round made by Poilâne. And it wasn't $100. It was $40. Ok, so it was a giant $40 loaf that would probably cost $20 from a domestic bakery... expensive, but not the evil exclusive extravagance I had expected. Even more disarming, it is sold by the half loaf ($20), quarter loaf ($10), and even by the slice ($1.50)... dang it... it's downright accessible! And hey, ten Canadian dollars used to be like eight bucks in the U.S.... next thing I knew, I was buying a quarter loaf to bring home. Alas, I'd become the very thing I had intended to mock...

Yaletown has all sorts of other distractions... lots of unique boutiques, furniture stores, bookstores and galleries... there's even a nifty Mini showroom. Definitely go inside and sit in one of the cars... the folks there are super friendly and laid back.

Yaletown is also full of interesting objects and textures... the area itself can give off a little bit of a snooty vibe, but if you look past that, there are some genuinely interesting natural visual features... really great if you want to snap some photos.

We randomly stopped into Ganache, an amazing patisserie run by Vancouver-born pastry master, Peter Fong. They happened to be celebrating their 4th anniversary, so we were treated to a whole host of samples of new dessert concepts. Decadent truffles with intense dark chocolate flavor, delicious pate de fruits, gorgeous macarons, modern interpretations of classic desserts... an amazing shop whose delicious offerings and incredibly friendly staff make it hard to leave.

Glancing at Lav's watch, we realized we had just enough time to make it to happy hour at Rodney's Oyster House, just a couple of blocks over. $1.50 oysters, a good selection of beer, and a comfortably low key atmosphere... much more so than most other restaurants in the area. Never a bad way to whet the appetite for dinner.

Our last stop was for an early evening sushi excursion. We visited Yoshi on Denman. I was hoping for a small, sushi-only bar with an intimate, down to earth atmosphere. This was not that place. What Yoshi does offer, though, is spectacularly fresh fish (much of which is flown in from Tokyo) in the hands of expert sushi chefs. Particularly good were the geoduck sashimi salad with peppery daikon sprouts, a smooth and decadent ankimo in ponzu, truly excellent amaebi, pure and clean saba, and sweet local uni.

As an added bonus, I got to see Tak-san, our chef, methodically dispatch a live lobster for sashimi, which can be difficult to do properly without damaging the delicate flesh. All in all, a full, fantastic day trip... and time to head home.

So how was the not-quite $100 Poilâne round, with its stone-ground flour, wood oven pedigree of "retro-innovation"? To be honest, it was actually pretty good. Dense, consistent crumb, hearty nutty whole wheat flavor with a subtle sourdough backdrop (made with a starter that is over 150 years old) and a good, chewy crust. Worth the money and effort to fly it in directly from France? Probably not in this day and age, when we have such amazing local bread artisans in the U.S. But fun to try nonetheless... so, mission accomplished... sort of.

Sun Sui Wah
102 4940 No. 3 Road
Richmond, BC
Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant (Richmond) on Urbanspoon

All India Sweets Restaurant
6507 Main St.
Vancouver, BC
All India Sweets & Restaurant (Main) on Urbanspoon

Urban Fare
177 Davie St.
Vancouver, BC
Urban Fare on Urbanspoon

Rodney's Oyster House
1228 Hamilton St.
Vancouver, BC
Rodney's Oyster House on Urbanspoon

Ganache Patisserie
1262 Homer St.
Vancouver, BC
Ganache Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Yoshi on Denman
689 Denman St.
Vancouver, BC
Yoshi on Urbanspoon

Some info on shops in Yaletown.


  1. Anonymous12:50 AM

    Sun Sui Wah is where I go too! Great choice! Thanks for all the other suggestions too!


  3. I've always wanted to go to Vancouver and experience the good eats. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Anonymous5:58 PM

    In defense of Urban Fare, the Poilane used to be sold only whole, and did cost $100 (about two years ago). But, as they had never once sold one, they dropped the price and started hacking them up. However, the legend continues... In reality, those loaves of bread brought so many people into the store, that it was probably worth carrying without a single sale. Something really worth having is their hummus. All the locals are hopelessly addicted to it and it's absolutely without a doubt the best I've ever had. I don't think I've ever made it out of the store without at least a small container.

  5. The good indian food in seattle is just very hidden. Most of it is on the east side.

    But what about this place?


    kent is almost seattle.