WHEN we all briefly wondered if the world would end last week, you were likely despondent to be missing out on my annual "Year in Review" column.
Ahem . . . perhaps not. But it was a good year in eating on the North Shore.
The economy's slow and steady recovery allowed several new rooms to open and thrive, especially on a certain block of Marine Drive in Ambleside; our new Restaurant Row.
So without further ado, here are a few highlights from The Dish in 2012.
In January, I sampled beef noodles at Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle Restaurant in Ambleside. First created in Taiwan and often served as fast food throughout China, the long-simmered beef broth is loaded with noodles, veggies and slices of beef. It's such a key piece of Taiwan's culinary identity that a beef noodle festival is held each year in Taipei. Our introduction to them came courtesy of one of Taiwan's best-known noodle
makers, in a capacious, modern space that's easy to spot thanks to the giant chopsticks raising and lowering a tangle of noodles from an equally giant bowl in the window.
As well as the noodles, perfectly tender in a deeply beefy broth, the pan-fried stuffed tofu was a winning dish.
Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle is located at 1560 Marine Dr., West Vancouver.
In February, I was back on the same 1500-block of Marine Drive to visit Bene Sushi Restaurant, another sparkling new space with dark wood and red accented booths stretching around corners, and modern chandeliers hanging like constellations over the hostess station and the sushi bar.
While favourite sushi dishes are available here, it's with the Bene Fusion - featuring izakaya-style dishes like Ebiyonnaise (prawn tempura with house mayonnaise), beef tataki, and seared tuna - where the menu shines. We also liked the original rolls: the Bene Roll, a tightly wrapped composition of prawn tempura and crab, and the spectacular Black Tiger Roll, a full-on construction of crab, salmon, tuna, avocado and cooked prawn, made with black rice and fanned with crisp slices of Asian pear. Bene Sushi Restaurant, 1574 Marine Dr., West Vancouver; benesushi.com.
My most memorable meal of the year came in April, when I was invited to dine at the always splashy Bearfoot Bistro in celebration of the restaurant's sous chef, Jimmy Stewart, who was competing on the Food Network reality show, Top Chef Canada. From Champagne sabering to pouring premium vodka in the bistro's Belvedere Ice Room this restaurant never does dinner by half-measures, and the Top Chef meal was no exception. We tried Stewart's Salad of Spring Vegetables from the show: crunchy green beans and whisper-thin shavings of radish on porcini "soil" and a puff of goat cheese, followed by dinner of black cod rested on grilled white asparagus, earthy morels, and Jerusalem artichoke foam. Amazing.
The Bearfoot Bistro is at 4121 Village Green, Whistler. Call 604-932-3433, or visit bearfootbistro.com for details.
Late in the spring, North Vancouver finally got a restaurant that makes the most of its incredible waterfront location. Built on the boardwalk of the historic Victory Shipyards in Lower Lonsdale, Pier 7 Restaurant + Bar has 180-degree views of the working port, the cruise ship traffic, and Stanley Park. Executive chef Dino Renaerts created a menu that is seafood-focused, with approachable dishes that range from West Coast seafood nachos to grilled spring salmon, pan-seared North Coast halibut, lamb sirloin, chicken breast, steak or gnocchi. The food is well crafted, and the wine list terrific. It's a fitting eatery for an iconic location. Pier 7 Restaurant + Bar is at 25 Wallace Mews, North Vancouver; pierseven.ca.
In July, I was back in Ambleside again, to sample the treats at the very pretty and polished C.C. Violin Patisserie and Café. This cream-and-lavender confection of a shop, filled with elegant pastries and tarts, pulls frothy espresso from a Nuova Simonelli espresso machine and serves a small menu of top-notch housemade lunch items. Of course, the headliners here are the pastries, tarts, cakes and cookies, each a work of art.
There's a green apple mousse cake shaped like an apple; a dark rectangle of black forest cake layered with puffs of cream and a thin wisp of chocolate; shiny fruit tarts and airy choux layered with mousse. There are croissants, pain au chocolate and brioche, and in jars beside the cash register: chocolate cookies, meringues, and more. C.C. Violin Patisserie & Café is at 1564 Marine Dr., West Vancouver.
The Portly Chef opened in the summer to rave reviews. I stopped in on a warm August evening to find a full-flavoured menu that mashes up ethnic cuisines and carefully sourced ingredients with classic techniques. If you stop in too often for food like Qualicum Bay scallops paired with pork schnitzel; Lobster corn dogs; wok-fried squid; and a "Deconstructed Poutine" with creamy gruyere fondue and traditional gravy, you will indeed soon be portly. The Portly Chef is at 1211 Lonsdale Ave., North Vancouver; theportlychef. com. Reservations are recommended.
In November I was thrilled to dine at a longtime Bowen favourite that has now moved to Ambleside. Blue Eyed Marys is posh and pretty: painted eggshell blue, with wallpapered columns, chandeliers, antique furniture and white table linens, it feels straight out of a neighbourhood on Paris's Right Bank. The menu, created by chef and co-owner Carol Wallace, along with chef Kindy Riley, is focused and thoughtful. Dishes change depending on the season and what ingredients are available. Must-try dish: bison flat iron steak - deeply flavoured and tender, sided by a horseradish-pancetta griddle cake and laced with a shallot reduction.
Blue Eyed Marys, 1735 Marine Dr., West Vancouver, is open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. Call 604-921-2583 for reservations, or visit blueeyedmarys.com.
Finally, earlier this month I fell in love with the shortrib sandwich at Tour de Feast. Composed of long-braised beef shortribs mingled with caramelized onions, truffle mayo and tangy mustard, all layered in a dense multigrain hoagie. It was utterly delicious, and worth every penny of the $11 I paid for it.
Tour de Feast café and catering is at 319 Mountain Hwy., North Vancouver; tourdefeast.com.
Whew. That was some eating! Now on to 2013. Happy New Year!
Deana Lancaster has been writing about food and wine since 1998, and worked in restaurants for more than a decade before that. She is passionate about good food. Follow her on twitter @deanal, or send her an email, to email@example.com.