This is at once my favourite and least favourite column of the year.
On the one hand, I enjoy reliving the best meals and venues of the 52 weeks that this column is published.
I was reminded throughout 2018 that the North Shore’s dining scene holds its own and does not play second fiddle to anywhere. On the other hand, compiling a Best Of list invariably implies that if a business was not mentioned, it somehow wasn’t up to par.
This is simply not true. The list below is just the best of the best, the meals that stood out above the rest.
There were some powerful entries into our local market this year, and some of the better established venues proved once again why they remain favourites. As a general observation I would say that North Shore dining excels in the upscale casual category, an annoyingly apt marketing term describing restaurants in which the kitchens turn out smart, focussed dishes of high quality, but serve them in an atmosphere that is still approachable and comfortable.
Working down from No. 11 to No. 1, here are my Best Meals of 2018:
11. Windsor Meats “Meatery” on Lonsdale
The second dine-in location of the 62-year-old butcher operation opened in swish digs in Lower Lonsdale. Exceptionally good sandwiches are on offer here, with very clear, very immediate provenance (the butcher can tell you the story of every meat in the shop). Try their excellent banh mi, a sausage roll, or a restorative cup of bone broth. The Meatery is licensed, as well. https://bit.ly/2EvXZHZ. Windsormeats.com/meaterylonsdale
A consistently fun and welcoming venue, Jagerhof is on the list this year not for schnitzel or seasonal schweinshaxe, but for their unique and delicious Sunday brunch. Sweet and savoury dishes are impeccably realized here, and the service is, as always, warm and personable. I recommend the Kasseler (brined pork) with fried eggs and pan-fried potatoes, if available. https://bit.ly/2LlAYZB. Jagerhof.ca/
9. Louis Gervais Bistro and Catering.
This is a hidden gem down in North Vancouver’s Harbourside business complex (also known less euphemistically as the Auto Mall). Affable, down-to-earth Chef Gervais pays close attention to detail to execute a menu that is the sum of a lifetime of elevated culinary industry experiences. Indulge in seasonal breakfast and lunchtime fare from lamb chops to celeriac soup, tuna poke to whatever else tickle’s the kitchen’s fancy. https://bit.ly/2A6bKtF. Louisgervaiscatering.com
8. Heirloom West Vancouver
Heirloom is all about bright and boldly flavoured, colourful, vegan and vegetarian fare served in a casual, airy room just a stone’s throw from Ambleside Beach. Shelf your preconceptions about plant-based eating and go enjoy a unique and rewarding meal. Heirloom is a true breath of fresh air on the North Shore. https://bit.ly/2S59fi9. Heirloomveg.ca/
7. The Shop at Two Rivers Meats
This place is the antithesis of Heirloom. It is a meat-centric venue marked by the alluring smell of wood burning grills and seared beasts of all descriptions. In addition to serving the best burgers on the Shore, hands-down, The Shop also dishes up a constantly updated menu based on ethically sourced, Western Canadian reared meats. https://bit.ly/2UU5Y7s. Tworiversmeats.ca/
6. Scratch Kitchen
My recent pizza and a pint experience in this diminutive but nicely appointed restaurant occupying the old Village Table space in Dollarton makes this list for its lovingly realized thin-crust pies with creative toppings, warm service, and inviting design. Good wines and beers on tap too. https://bit.ly/2Es8Z94. Eatscratchkitchen.com/
5. The Observatory
It had been a while since my last visit to Grouse Mountain’s high-end dining room, but a rare date night with DJ reminded me just how great this place can be when it is on its game, which is was. Veteran front of house personality Brett Carroll (a former member of my team when I managed that room half a lifetime ago, long, long before taking on this column) orchestrated a seamless, 3.5-hour dinner experience while Grouse Mountain F&B Director Chef Dino Gazzola’s team turned out pretty near flawless fare, course after course. It is an expensive meal, to be sure, but it is money well spent if you are looking to indulge. I strongly prefer the quieter, non-summer Observatory experience and have had consistently superior meals here during this dining shoulder season. https://bit.ly/2STpzmd. https://www.observatoryrestaurant.ca/
4. In Grain Pastificio
This is where you go when you crave creative, delicious house-made pasta. A frequently updated menu along with outstanding pastas, many of them incorporating uncommon, taste-forward grains, conspire to furnish a memorable casual meal experience. A thoughtful wines-by-the-glass program and exceptionally tasty appetizers make this a personal favourite when deep hunger strikes. https://bit.ly/2EyRFQL. www.ingrainpastiificio.com
I had an impressive meal here with The Boy, who also enjoyed a spontaneous tour of the kitchen courtesy of accomplished chef and owner Scott Kidd, whose handle on West Coast ingredients is still pretty much unmatched. A meal at Canyon is about big flavours built around an exceptional central ingredient. Edgemont Village owes a debt to Canyon for the evening time energy it consistently provides. There is a nice wine list here to boot. https://bit.ly/2Lo6C8T. TheCanyon.ca
2. Mythos Taverna
Runner up for best meal of the year is Mythos, chef Nick Fikeris’s long-running Greek taverna that recently relocated to the old Pasparos space following the retirement of the latter’s ownership. Great Greek food offered in enormous, exceptional value portions abounds, and the street-facing atrium provides nice ambiance for diners. An absolutely stunning dinner platter featured some of the best dolmathes I’ve ever had, along with succulent lamb, chicken, kefthedes and a long list of other items, all excellently prepared. https://bit.ly/2GqeMid. Mythostaverna.ca
1. Rive Gauche
The No. 1 spot on this year’s list goes to Chef Weimar Gomez’s spectacular ode to modern French cuisine with far-reaching influences, including Colombian, whence the chef hails. Multiple attempts by others to make this charming West Vancouver room soar have either fallen flat or fizzled quickly, so it was a pleasure to be positively blown away by a meal that I could not fault in any way. Genuine, personable service elevated the experience even further and established Rive Gauche as a formidable force on our dining scene. This is closer to fine dining than most of the other entries on this list, but don’t expect the stuffiness or pomposity that too often attends that designation; this is extraordinary food put out by nice people who love what they do. I felt very comfortable here. https://bit.ly/2SVD4lA. Rvgauche.com/
This year, I re-visited past Best Meals list toppers Swad Indian Kitchen (pan Indian cuisine in a gorgeous room) and Terroir Kitchen (elegant share plates with a southern European influence) to see how they have fared over time and I am happy to report that both these restaurants, among my personal all-time favourites, still represent the very best in their categories. While it was time to make way for new entrants in the top three, make no mistake, these two restaurants still rub shoulders with the best of them.
I also need to call out the culinary program at Carson Graham Secondary School for its excellent dinner service that I sampled back at the outset of summer. Truly top notch fare was executed by aspiring chefs from the school’s impressive training kitchen and I left my meal feeling very confident about the future of our home-grown restaurant industry.
Thanks, everyone, for reading these columns. I’ll be back with more in 2019. Happy New Year!