According to the Chinese zodiac, the Year of the Sheep is drawing to a close.
Looking back over the last 12 months of dining, neither lamb nor mutton featured particularly heavily in my reviews. Was this a subconscious sign of respect for 2015’s symbolic beast? Whatever the case, I rather suspect (and hope, frankly) that next year’s astrological representative is equally scarce on my plate, given that 2016 is the Year of the Monkey.
Despite the paucity of ovine dishes, 2015 was another phenomenal year for dining on the North Shore. Here is a list of my favourite Dish experiences of the year, in no particular order:
Swad Indian Kitchen (1734 Marine Dr., swadindiankitchen.ca): A late entry to this year’s Best Of roundup, Swad was a special dining experience that surpassed all of my expectations. A pan-Indian menu (versus the much more common Punjab-focused approach seen throughout the West) boasts a thoughtful collection of some of India’s quintessential regional specialties served by polished, knowledgeable staff in a beautiful, elegantly appointed space. The Bengali Curry, featuring fish in a lush, mustard-scented sauce, is a must.
Il Castello Pizzeria (119 East Second St., ilcastellopizzeria.com): January welcomed a new addition to the local pizza scene. While traditional Neapolitan pizza is still de rigueur in Vancouver (suddenly everyone knows what Caputo flour is), not all pies are created equal. Il Castello remains at the fore of the meta-trend, producing pizza of exceptional quality, with springy, slightly charred and bubbly crust and simple, authentic toppings without a slice of pepperoni anywhere in sight. The Bianco pizza is a great showcase for the magical dough, topped with light, fresh ingredients including olive oil, roasted garlic, zucchini, pecorino and rocket.
Coconama (264 East First St., coconama.com): “Connect people with chocolate” is the mantra of chocolatier partners Taka Chiwata and Kayoko Hamamoto who head up the charming workshop/classroom/retail space that is Coconama down in North Vancouver’s new industrial-chic foodie neighbourhood. I maintain that their chocolate-making class, a two-hour hands-on session that is a bargain at $40 per person, is one of the best date options on the Shore. Learn how to make your own velvety dark chocolate from scratch and then pick up a little container of the amazing sansho pepper-infused chocolate, an intense, palate-jolting experience like no other.
InGrain Pastificio (1133 Mount Seymour Rd., ingrainpastificio.com): Pasta from grains like spelt and farro? Lower those eyebrows, my friends, because InGrain makes it work. The bright and airy, friendly and accessible Parkgate Village diner and café from the visionaries behind Arm’s Reach Bistro is a haven for delicious, handmade pastas, salads, and baked goods. Sip a glass of affordable, food-friendly vino as you watch the kitchen prepare your meal from an inviting communal table. Daily specials abound, but regular menu items include a lovely Brussels Sprout Salad with apples and walnuts and an indulgent mac and cheese with braised beef, mushrooms and mornay sauce.
Sons of Vancouver (1431 Crown St., sonsofvancouver.ca). The eponymous Sons, James Lester and Richard Klaus, are part of a welcome new wave of small-scale specialty producers that are helping to redefine the local food and beverage scene. This micro-distiller produces carefully realized craft spirits including a fiery, glowing orange chili vodka, clean and subtly fragrant vodka made with Champagne yeast, and an incomparable amaretto, painstakingly distilled with bitter almonds, apricots and blackberry honey.
Café Ca Va (1860 Marine Dr., cafecava.com): Do not overlook this delightful French bistro recessed from the Marine Drive sidewalk in West Vancouver. My go-to spot for mussels (moules frites) and other rustic, flavour-forward bistro fare, Café Ca Va has a stylish interior and food-friendly wine list. The recent addition of Dana Reinhard, who now helms the tiny kitchen, has resulted in an even tighter execution of authentic French classics.
Sansho Sushi (707 Queensbury Ave., sansho.ca): In a town where you can’t throw a rock without knocking over a bowl of miso soup, it is a tremendous feat to operate a conversation-worthy sushi restaurant. Chef and sushi guru Hideki Yamamoto and his family do just that, however, in their fabulous sushi bar-meets-izakaya space on Queensbury Avenue. Fastidiously shaped, bite-sized nigiri, maki and sashimi will renew your love for a cuisine that is so frequently attempted but so rarely mastered. The Signature Roll of eel, salmon, scallop, fish roe and avocado is a good showcase of Yamamoto’s enviable talents, but consistent proof of Sansho’s quality can be found in its pristine sashimi, which is respectfully portioned and just-plucked-from-the-sea fresh.
Montgomery’s Fish and Chips (Lonsdale Quay Market, facebook.com/Montgomerys-Fish-and-Chips): Categorically the best fish and chips I have ever had, even taking into account exceptional entries from beachside stands on the North Sea in England, where all of this deep-fried-ocean-treat stuff arguably began.
Honourable mentions go to KK BBQ House for its consistently fantastic chow mein, BLVD Bistro for its creative and delicious breakfast paella (El Paella de Patron), Tap and Barrel Shipyards for inventing the Brunch Poutine with pulled bacon and hollandaise, Deep Cove’s Café Orso for a wonderful charcuterie plate, and finally to Bowen Island Pizza Co. owner and pizza meister Melanie McCready for her unique Pear and Brie pie and for introducing me to the phenomenal Fennel Salami from D-Original Sausage.
Bon appetit everyone.
Chris Dagenais served as a manager for several restaurants downtown and on the North Shore. A self-described wine fanatic, he earned his sommelier diploma in 2001. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. North Shore News dining reviews are conducted anonymously and all meals are paid for by the newspaper.