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Here I thought 2023 was a restrained year for me, not overindulging and avoiding unnecessary restaurant meals and flabby consequences.
But summoning memories of the best dishes I ate, I’m astonished and humbled by the talent and enthusiasm in our culinary industry. There were too many wonderful dishes to be herded into a newspaper column and these are just the ones that floated to the surface.
As I audibly enjoyed some of these soul stirring dishes, I’m sure I elicited a few “I’ll have what she’s having” from neighbouring diners, although not in the When Harry Met Sally vein. I had many outstanding tasting menus but alas, find the memories of two-bite dishes aren’t strong, given that the quick hello and goodbye. The whole is so much greater than the parts.
But there’s such amazing talent in the city. Whether it was the panic of pandemic days or the presence of Michelin inspectors, creative juices and ideas have been gushing.
Here are some of the dishes, definitely not all, that I’m remembering fondly.
Acre Through The Seasons
8400 West Rd., Richmond
I couldn’t decide which I liked better on the seasonal tasting menu: the Wagyu zabuton (‘little pillow’ in Japanese) with silky potato foam, stewed Okanagan cherry and red wine jus with balletic strips of zucchini, or the come-hither dish with a silky pasta sheet, insouciantly tossed over corn chanterelles, chorizo, cotija, and tagine sauce.
4194 Fraser St., Vancouver
This Fraserhood restaurant prides itself on its dry aged fish program and it’s best as crudo — the Spencer Gulf hiramasa, or yellow amberjack, was a gorgeous dish in every way, plated with blood orange, pomegranate and green pistachio sauce. Ditto, a wreath of scallop crudo with cucumber, apple brunoise and jalapeno, served with tapioca caviar, crispy jalapeno, dill, and yuzu sauce.
2650 Main St., Vancouver
It is Novella Coffee by day and Bar Susu by night and chef Marc Marayag’s dishes are visual and gastronomic beauties. Even a humble winter broth with tofu and mussels was a work of art, the tofu carved into a chrysanthemum-like blossom with apparent Ninja knife skills. Earlier, when Ashley Kurtz was chef — before moving back to St. Lawrence — I loved his ketchup potato chips. “I went at it like a crazed chipmunk,” I said in a review.
Günesli Bahçe Sok 43, Istanbul, Turkey
Run by the culinary Indiana Jones of Turkey who collects recipes from the nooks and crannies of Turkish home kitchens, the restaurant is a World’s 50 Best Discovery restaurant. What thrilled me was a delicious whole baby eggplant dessert, stewed and candied, still firm, and glistening in spiced fruit syrup. A revelation!
2297 East Hastings St., Vancouver
Ice cream is often a dish I ignore on dessert menus, but this! The hand-churned pistachio ice cream was the creamiest and smoothest ever, and served with slightly sweetened fresh cherries.
2272 West Fourth Ave, Vancouver
I’m a sucker for Middle Eastern cookies and desserts and at Delara the turmeric orange cake with orange blossom buttercream had me at hello. It was carpet bombed with pistachios, rose petals, candied orange. Very vibrant and yummy.
120 Fourth Street, Tofino
Given a choice of the baby back ribs at this little Korean spot or the legendary Franklin Barbecue smoked ribs in Austin, Texas, I just might choose the Korean-style Sung style ribs. It’s named after the chef-owner’s wife Sung. The umami and fall-apart pork is succulent and deliriously delish.
961 Denman St., Vancouver
It’s Vancouver’s first Indonesian and Japanese culinary meet-cute and whaddaya know, it’s working out. Upon seeing the laksa bombs on the menu — prawn and truffle dumplings in a lobster laksa broth — I sulked. I wanted laksa, the delicious spicy coconut noodle soup. But hold on! The bombs were a blast in my mouth!
217 Carrall St., Vancouver
Pear sorbet forever rings bells for me ever since a memorable one when my husband and I got engaged, oh so long ago, in a Paris bistro. The one I had at L’Abattoir with verjus sabayon was more beautifully presented and tasted of pear to the power of 10. Another power to the 10 dish I had there was a summer party on a plate of Fraser Valley duck breast and stuffed confit leg with foie gras parfait, beetroot, blackberries, plums and wild blueberries.
635 Commercial Dr., Vancouver
The sfoglino makes translucent sheets of pasta in the middle of the small dining room, which in turn, transforms into dishes like the tagliatelle with creamy marsala mushroom sauce and pecorino cheese. A simple, sensuous dish, you slurp loudly and joyfully.
Marilena Cafe And Raw Bar
1525 Douglas St., Victoria
I usually abstain from eating seafood with higher IQs than me but I lost resolve with chef Kristian Eligh’s tender octopus dish. Grilled, with n’duja sofrito and gigante beans, it had peak umami with the cured meat and smokiness.
2067 Lake Placid Rd., Whistler
There’s Thai curry and there’s Thai curry. At Mekong, I loved the robust, symphonic flavours of the gaeng gari Chicken curry. The brined chicken is a cross between the western roaster and a tougher but flavourful Asian chicken. I’d also recommend the elevated hoi torte, or crispy turmeric egg crepe, with Salt Spring Island mussels, bean sprouts and sweet chili sauce.
1161 Georgia St., Vancouver
On the Lunar New Year menu, a whole lobster salad wowed me. It was served with assorted julienned vegetables, dried abalone and sides of garnishes to be added in by each diner at the table before tossing and dressing the salad — a delicious, auspicious way to start a new year.
1128 Commercial Dr., Vancouver
I imprinted on vindaloo in Goa, home of vindaloo, when a guest-house owner cooked beef vindaloo for Christmas Eve dinner. And so at the South Indian Sula restaurant, the very good lamb vindaloo, alive with flavours, was a thrill. And bonus, the surplus sauce allowed me to give the dish an afterlife at home by adding more veg.
10225 – 272nd St., Maple Ridge
This outdoor restaurant is on a sustainable, ethically run farm operated by an opera singer who once sang to his cattle with a chef who was once sous chef at L’Abattoir. I loved his charcoal-grilled Berkshire pork with roasted apple, fermented kohlrabi, apple sauce, brandied chicken stock and mustard seed jus. The restaurant is open from March to December.
4005 Whistler Way, Whistler
Co-owner and corporate chef Alex Chen adds magic to any dish he touches, even with the simpler cuisine he now favours. My favourite was an exquisite sablefish, marinated in maple syrup, tamari and dashi then served with maitake mushrooms, miso, turnips, radish and miso sesame dressing.