My Vancouver

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I remember the sunny July day in 1998 when I arrived in Vancouver for what I thought was a two year commitment.  Transferred out of our Toronto office, I planned to give the West Coast a try for a few years.  Fifteen years later -Vancouver is home.

Like almost everyone else in this town, I wasn’t born here.  A city full of transplants, Vancouver is a fishing village.  The city itself plays host to a mere 600,000 odd citizens (it’s the surrounding communities and suburbs that push us up over the 2.5 million mark) all settled into just 115 square kilometres.  All the action circles out from the downtown core playing host to the surrounding area so the city seems so much busier and populated than it actually is.  Truth is, after living here for so long you realize what a small little world it is and I love it.

I love that I can do my job here – far away from the entertainment industry centres.  Sure, I have to travel more – but when I’m home I’m not obligated to all sorts of business functions etc.

I love that Vancouver has grown out of the awkward teenage phase it was in when I arrived in 1998.  Like Justin Bieber, the city was still resting on it’s own version of “Baby” – Expo 86.  Pimply faced and waiting for its voice to change Vancouver starting to come into its own.  Now its the sophisticated Adele of cities.  Like “Rolling in the Deep” Vancouver welcomed the 2010 Winter Olympics and literally conquered the world stage.

We cheered from the sidelines for the athletes, sure.  But we cheered the loudest for our city.  It was a shaky start, we worried if we could handle all the attention.  The weather was just as apprehensive.  The warmest, driest season in recent memory made the mountains more of a hiker’s paradise rather than a skiier’s dream.  News channels covered us with great relish.  “They have to helicopter in snow to cover the slopes!”

Day 1 was simply tragic as the luge track took a life and the Opening Ceremonies took a sombre tone.

But then something happened.  The sun came out and shone on our fair city.  The temperatures rose and the people came out in droves.  We became obsessed with the games, with the spotlight and we liked it.  We liked to show off our fair climate in mid-February.  Our beautiful mountains and glistening ocean.  The people of Vancouver became true hosts and rose to the occasion.  It was a magical experience.

Since then Vancouver is a changed place.  Out of its adolescence, Vancouver is a sexy and sophisticated twenty-something ready to accept its place among the old guard of cool places – Rio, Sydney, Cape Town.  Vancouver was rubbing shoulders with these cities and could maybe even give them a run for their money.

And it ain’t over yet, I can’t wait to see what happens when she’s a confident thirty-something!

My favorite Vancouver places:

EAT

Tavola

Hands down my favorite restaurant in Vancouver.  Located on the far west end of Robson St in a residential area, Tavola is nestled into a cozy neighborhood thats literally steps away from the action.  Close enough to feel the energy but far enough to not have it overwhelm.  This casual yet cool place serves some of the best food I have EVER eaten.  Delicious, gooey Burrata cheese (flown in from the Napa Valley) paired with fresh daily antipasto.  Homemade pasta fresh sheet that changes regularly (don’t worry – the incredibly simple yet wholly scrumptious Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe remains on the menu daily).  Not to mention the crispy brick chicken, rib steak for a crowd and the desserts made in house, Tavola is Italian comfort at its best.  A great wine list covers all the bases!  The service is second to none.

Heirloom

Typically west coast, Vancouver boasts its share of vegetarian fare and most of it excellent.  But Heirloom is on a whole other level.  Located at the corner of 12th and Granville in one of the cities few heritage buildings, Heirloom creates a light, airy space with a whitewash and high ceilings.  A great spot for brunch, the menu offers options for all variations of restrictive diets – vegetarian, vegan, raw, gluten free.  I myself literally giggled like a school girl while digging into the raw, gluten free, vegan pecan brownie with avocado frosting.  Holy smokes!

Nuba

This small chain of very sexy Lebanese restaurants across the city offers a feast for the senses.  Delicious platters filled with falafel and creamy hummus, crispy salads and crunchy fried cauliflower all satisfy!

East is East

For organic Afghan/ Indian delicacies and an ambience that won’t quit, East is East on South Main is a favorite.  We love their roti wraps (and had to institute a moratorium as we were visiting the easy access take-out window at least once a week).

The Teahouse in Stanley Park

If you’re looking for a room with a view, The Teahouse is second to none.  A fantastic perch above English Bay, nestled into Stanley Park offers a 180 degree view of the ships waiting to enter the Harbor and the perfect vantage point for a west coast sunset.  The food is good and the kids menu is a godsend!

NIGHTLIFE

Truth is, since we had the Shorties our nightlife is a little limited – but we do have our favorite places to hang out when we can organize a babysitter.

The Commodore Ballroom

One of the premier ballroom level concert venues in North America, The Commodore has been lovingly restored to its original glory and hosts some of the best touring artists coming through town.  The dance floor is still sprung (rumor has it with old tires and horsehair) so find a spot in the middle during a sell out show and take a ride!

Guilt & Co.

Located in the heart of Gastown, this downstairs bar is a great place for a martini.  Live music from local artists entertains and the unisex bathroom offers a one-way window out to the club so you can spy on your friends.  Haha!

The Electric Owl

I’ve spent a lot of time in grungy nightclubs watching bands.  The Electric Owl on Main is a the exact opposite.  Most bars consider sightlines to the stage as merely an afterthought – here sightlines are paramount as the room is perfectly arranged widthwise for maximum viewing (and listening).

The Keefer Hotel

If its simply cocktails you’re after, then this is the place.  Set in the fringes of Chinatown, the Keefer Hotel offers a great patio and a drinks menu that will blow your mind.  The inventive recipes and vintage glassware are super fun!

SHOP

For many, shopping in Vancouver is fantastic.  Robson Street is the perfect High Street model, flashing wares from all the top fashion chains (Zara, BCBG, Banana Republic).  But I really prefer the charm of the small independent boutiques that are found along South Main and Gastown.  4th Ave in Kits and South Granville are also a great destinations.

THINGS TO DO

Sunny Summer Day

Head to any one of the beaches around English Bay and soak up some rays.

Rainy Day

Vancouver Aquarium or Science World are great places to visit when the weather is the pits (like most of the time).  All ages will appreciate the great galleries at both!  Or head to the spa – I love Miraj Hammam on a cold, rainy day where you can escape to the warm sauna and get a massage.  Skoah is a Vancouver based operation that gives great facials!

Winter Day

GO SKIING.  Get up to one of the local mountains (we prefer Cypress) and play in the snow.  The Alpine and Nordic options on all 3 local mountains offer activities for everyone (Downhill & Cross Country Skiing, Snowshoeing at all levels, Tobogganing and Tubing).

WHERE TO STAY

I don’t usually stay in hotels when I’m at home.  But here are a few that I hear are pretty good:

The Fairmont Pacific Rim

Located across from the new Convention Centre and just blocks from Robson, the brand new Pacific Rim is a glittering addition to the Vancouver skyline.  The room decor is very cool and functional and the outdoor pool with cabanas and fireplaces looks pretty bad ass.  The lobby bar offers a great scene and good cocktails.

The Wedgewood

One of the original boutique hotels in the city, the Wedgewood also has one of the best bars in the city.  Bacchus Lounge is a great place for a date or a quiet drink.  The rooms are charming and the location just off the Robson strip can’t be beat.

Vancouver is a hell of a town.  You should check it out!

Eat to the Beat

I’m getting ready to head back on the road again this weekend and all I can think about is the great food I get to eat along the way.  Not the kind on the airplane or in the airport – but that I get to go back to some of the cities where I experienced some of the greatest meals of MY LIFE.  By now, you know I’m super bossy and know-it-all-y so it’s 100% in my nature to tell you that you should eat there too.

Geezus I love to eat!

Geezus I love to eat!

10. Bogner’s – Penticton, BC – BC wine country is slowly coming into its own and the foodies are following.  Chef Darin Paterson takes the concept of the 100 mile diet to a whole new level.  In addition to his kitchen garden surrounding the restaurant’s patio, Paterson pulls local produce from his own farm just 5 minutes out of town.  The fact that my kid had a “little accident” on the patio may sway me from returning next time, but fresh garden salsa might drag me back regardless.

9.  Patria – Toronto – True Spanish tapas in the heart of Toronto.  Loud, boisterous and super sexy.  Start with the Iberico ham.  A tough find on this side of the pond.  The paella is amazing.

8. Guy Savoy – Paris – Michelin mania.  Guy Savoy is a dining experience.  I’m usually not a fan of the pretentious Michelin presentation but man is his food good.  I’ve raved about Guy Savoy before.  Dessert comes on a cart – a motherf&*king cart FULL of desserts.  The first time I went there I ate 13 different desserts (lavender marshmallows, earl grey ice cream, macarons, strawberry tart, rice pudding – UNREAL).

7. Milos – New York – Fresh seafood in midtown Manhattan.  Big energy, delicious fresh food – great combo.  Don’t miss the Milos Special – lightly battered and fried zucchini and eggplant.  Yum.  That dish always tastes like MORE.

6. Alex Sushi – Oslo – Coming from Vancouver, the Sushi capitol of the world (outside Japan of course), I am always hesitant to eat sushi in other cities.  But Alex Sushi in Oslo nailed it.  The Tempura Salad was a revelation.  Plus the minimalist Scandinavian decor is very hip and happening.

5. A Travessa – Lisbon – Set down a narrow cobbled street with families grilling sardines and lanterns and streamers crisscrossing overhead, you enter an arched doorway to a sliding glass door that is about as odd as monkey’s wedding.  Down the stairs to a cavernous, candlelit room and into the rustic (is this the Portuguese version of Shabby Chic?) courtyard to dine under the stars.  The building was a former convent founded in the 17th century!  The complimentary appetizers (scrambled eggs with mushrooms, olives) and country style bread whet the palette along with cold white port served as an apperitif.  I had the Toro steak – the owner belittled me for ordering it medium.  “Its organic blood” he said!  It was magical!

4. Osteria Morini – New York – I’m not sure if this meal was so memorable because it was at the end of a super crazy press day or it was close enough to Christmas that it felt extra festive, but I loved this restaurant.  Its small and cozy by NYC standards and the fare is rustic Italian which is hands down my fave.  New York has arguably the best Italian food outside of Italy to be sure, but there was something extra special and authentic about the experience at Osteria Morini.  The weathered wood tables overflowing with mouthwatering cured meats and cheeses, the meatballs, the light and airy Lambrusco wine.  Call way ahead to make a reservation and if you can get a table TAKE IT!

3. Hutong – Hong Kong – Another great meal at the end of a super long, crazy press day.  I am pretty sure the food was as good as I remember.  Located on the 28th floor of One Peking Place in Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood of Kowloon, overlooking Victoria Harbour.  The decor a sort of Disney-ified version of old Hong Kong about as authentic as you can get in a brand new skyscraper.  The Szechuan cuisine was just spicy enough!  Delish.

2. La Petite Maison – London, UK – On a recent stay in London we were there for just two nights and had dinner here both evenings.  ITS THAT GOOD!  Incredible South of France inspired food in the heart of Mayfair.  The only problem is deciding what to eat.  The menu has so many great and delicious options.  The grilled veal chop (sorry, I know) was amazing and they serve the best french fries I have ever eaten.  (French fries are my kryptonite, so trust me on this one).

1. Tavola – Vancouver, BC – I know, I know, it seems a little contrived to pick a place in my own home town as #1, but I seriously love Tavola so much.  Back to rustic Italian, done really well.  A super simple menu and fresh sheet keeps the experience familiar but never stale.  The service is amazing with casual waitstaff often sitting at the table to explain the intricacies of the menu and winelist.  The Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe is the simplest pasta dish (fresh handmade noodles cooked in a delicate sauce comprised of just olive oil, parmesan and pepper) is worth every calorie.  The brick chicken is light and lemony and if you’re lucky to be there when Meyer Lemons are in season, you must try the Lemon Positano for dessert.  The menu is set up for sharing so this place is best visited with a crowd so you can taste a little of everything.