Visiting friends often ask me where to eat in Vancouver, and at the moment they ask, I'm stumped.
For one thing, this verdant coastal city has a spectacularly good restaurant scene, so there really are too many possibilities. For another, my pals aren't rich, and they don't want a splashy dinner that'll force them to put on a tie and then hang themselves when they see the bill. They're on holiday, for god's sake.
So I think and I think and I think, and I usually come up with my favourite handful. Before revealing all, I try to insert the right tone of longing into my voice (or e-mail) to suggest that I'd dearly love to be invited if they head out to investigate my tips. (This seldom works.) Then I give them my current favourites, usually throwing a few Asian choices into the mix because those cuisines are so well-represented in this multicultural city. While I've been lucky enough to eat in some of Vancouver's swankest restaurants for free as part of the city's food media, I've paid my own way at these ones -- in most cases, on numerous occasions.
Top of the pops with me, then, are the Pink Pearl, a giant Chinese restaurant serving ultra-fresh cuisine and terrific dim sum on East Hastings; the lively Japanese pubs Hapa Izakaya on Robson Street and the Bladerunner-esque Shiru-Bay Chopstick Cafe in Yaletown; Banana Leaf, which has three locations on the Lower Mainland and a roster of irresistible, reasonably priced Malaysian delights; Chambar, a stylish and popular Belgian joint on Gastown's perimeter whose tasty moules frites is grand yet affordable comfort food; Boneta, an unpretentious, deeply sophisticated Gastown beauty run by refugees from the troubled, if illustrious, Lumiere; and La Regalade, a fantastic French bistro that is not downtown (gasp!) but over the Lions Gate Bridge, in West Vancouver.
La Regalade remains my go-to girlfriend, the one I seek when I'm celebrating a birthday or anniversary but also when I'm saying "Get lost!" to a particularly rotten week. Never mind if the rain is pounding outside its glowing windows, you'll always find generous portions of bistro food, made with love and finesse by Chef Alain Raye, in a hopping yet intimate room presided over by his witty, green-eyed wife Brigitte.
You don't have to be able to afford a million dollar home in West Vancouver to feel like you're in a neighbourhood restaurant at La Regalade. To me, and to the friends I've taken there, there's nothing more refreshing, or more welcoming, than that.
Visit these restaurants' websites at: