Story by Katie Marti
VANCOUVER — This city has no shortage of great places to eat and drink. Indeed, Vancouver is choc-a-bloc with pubs and restaurants of every make and model, from no-frills sushi bars to white linen fine dining and everything in between. For locals, the tendency is to find a few favourites and fall into a routine: Stick with what you know and spread the word. For tourists, the options are overwhelming and decisions often boil down to geographic proximity. Resident or tourist, most diners in 2012 want to ensure a tasty, stable return on their investment of both time and money. Tourism Vancouver gets that.
Dine Out Vancouver is a foodie festival that runs from January 20 to February 5. The idea is to get folks out of the house and into bars and eateries they might otherwise dismiss for one reason or another. With three price ranges to choose from and set menus posted online, diners can make informed decisions and minimize risk before veering off course and going out on a limb. Participating businesses are grouped according to neighbourhood, price and food category, making it easy to prioritize and find the spot that suits your taste.
All restaurants offer a three-course meal with vegetarian and, in some cases, gluten-free options. For $18, most menus fall under the category of pub food. While a meal at this price beats the heck out of doing your own dishes, restaurants at this level are not necessarily known for their décor or creative cuisine. One exception is Bitter Tasting Room, a basic yet trendy spot located in Vancouver’s Gastown. The simple menu offers a fresh take on typical pub food, like handmade fennel sausage rolls, and the bar serves up local craft beer in flights, pints and even growlers (large jugs). For those with a more complex palette, there is also a selection of beer cocktails, bourbons and BC wines that are sure to put a long day to rest. Bitter Tasting Room is open every day between 5 pm and midnight.
The mid-range $28 menus offer a fairly mixed bag of treats. Expect to find many chain restaurants, such as the Keg and Milestone’s that are likely to attract their regular customers keen to get a deal on the food they know and love. However, there are some great deals and hidden gems in this range, which has the most participating restaurants of the three price groupings. For ambience, the Sequoia Company of Restaurants is tough to beat. They offer four locations throughout Metro Vancouver, each one unique and stunning in its own right. Sandbar, nestled under the bridge on Granville Island, and Seasons in the Park, perched atop Queen Elizabeth Park by the Bloedel Floral Conservatory, are two local favourites with a reputation for having friendly, professional service and a corporate menu with something for everyone. Bistro Pastis on West 4th Avenue is another spot that deserves mention, although not so much for its real estate as for its fabulous French cuisine. The classy, mouth-watering menu is a steal of a deal on any given day, let alone during the Dine Out festival. Expect fresh seafood, an extensive wine list and a real, live French maître d’. Ooh là, là!
At the top of the food-chain are restaurants offering a $38 Dine Out menu. Hot spots such as West and Yeware among the best in the city with renowned executive chefs and menus that boast rich flavours and ingredients like lobster and shaved truffle. This menu set provides thrifty diners a chance to enjoy foods and locations that may otherwise be out of the question or reserved for special occasions and rare treats. Reservations are recommended as many places book up fast, particularly on weekends. Some spots, like the Raincity Grill, have discounted lunch menus, a nice option. Regardless of where or when, all of the restaurants at this end of the spectrum offer a great chance for discerning diners to shine up their boots and seize the opportunity to see and be seen in some of Vancouver’s finest mess halls.
With more than 200 restaurants to choose from, there truly is something to whet any appetite during Dine Out Vancouver.