Vancouver 2012 Food Trends
2012 was a banner year for food in Vancouver with new restaurants opening seemingly every month that expanded and diversified the city’s culinary scene. No longer satisfied with sushi joints and big box chain restaurants, Vancouverites embraced the opportunity to sample a range of cuisines in well designed, inviting spaces. Restaurants at both high and low price points began making extensive use of local and organic ingredients, crafting seasonal menus that exploited the best of what was on offer and creating dishes which have never been fresher or tastier. While the city undoubtedly picked up on concepts that emerged in other west coast centers – like the elevation of the doughnut from truck stop staple to veritable foodie obsession – for what feels like the first time Vancouver also became an innovator and a leader in the North American food scene garnering the attention of the likes of The New York Times, Eat Street and The Huffington Post. From a near obsession with Neopolitan style pizza to cutting-edge vegetarian cuisine, restaurant options in Vancouver have never been better. As the year comes to a close, we thought this was an appropriate moment to reflect on our favourite options amongst the food trends that emerged in the city in 2012.
Just a few years ago there wasn’t a decent slice to be had in this city. But since Nicli Antica first opened its doors in 2011, pizzerias have been cropping up all over (much to our delight) and pizza’s popularity showed no signs of abating in 2012. Nicli is still our favourite and the most “authentic”, paying heed to traditional Neopolitan methods, turning out unsliced pies with moist centres and lightly charred crusts offering that smoky flavour we love. But others are giving Nicli a run for its money. Farina, from its small, self-serve space offers pizzas with a more “American” feel – a heartier, crisper crust that will withstand the drive home if you’re craving a gourmet pizza for takeout rather than Dominos. A relative newcomer to this field is Via Tevere, a cozy, eastside establishment which also honours the Neopolitan tradition using a 900-degree wood-burning oven. As classicists, we loved their Margherita which is always just tomato sauce, fior di latte and basil – simple goodness personified carried by a light and airy dough. The Salsiccia e Rapini was dotted with sausage (which truth be told could have packed a bit more flavour) but the bright green rapini was cooked to perfection and added a lovely complex flavour. We’re thrilled a little bit of Naples has finally hit Vancouver.
Until very recently, it seems doughnuts were derided as the low-rent terrain of cops and binge eaters. But this past year saw the rise of doughnuts as a hip dessert, replacing the macaron as the go-to sugar fix of 2012. First, Cartems pop-up shop, improbably located on the downtown eastside, saw people waiting in line for doughnuts with surprisingly sophisticated flavour profiles like Maple Bacon Bourbon and Earl Grey. Then this past summer, Lucky’s Doughnuts on Main opened and there is no looking back. Having joined forces with 49th Parallel Coffee, the caffeine and sugar combination is too much to resist and we’re not the only ones who have succumbed – every time we stop in, this loungey café is teeming. As repeat visitors we can attest that over time Lucky’s has improved both their cake and yeast doughnuts and their Crullers, which are often sold out, are particularly well done. When you lose all control, try their Coconut Cream creation – there is no way to eat this elegantly as cream oozes out of every crevice but it is decadent perfection.
As big fans of meatless meals, we could not have been happier about the vegetarian revolution that Vancouver witnessed in 2012. While it may have seemed like a no-brainer that a bastion of health and wellness like Vancouver would have a plethora of vegetarian options, before this year our choices were limited to relics of the city’s hippie past that felt out-dated both in terms of food and overall dining experience. This all changed this year with the opening of The Acorn, a contemporary restaurant that proves that dishes can be just as innovative and delectable without meat. Since its opening in July, the restaurant has distinguished itself in the bustling Main Street dining scene with lines around the block each evening as locals are more than willing to wait for such inventive offerings as the raw zucchini lasagne and our favourite, the beer battered halloumi. With a recent mention in the New York Times Magazine, a rare achievement for a local restaurant, The Acorn is not only challenging our expectations of what vegetarian cuisine can be, the establishment is also putting the Vancouver food scene on the map. Heirloom opened a few months later on the opposite side of town, a welcome addition to the rather banal dining scene on the South Granville strip. Less high-end than Acorn, Heirloom offers a thoughtful selection of vegetarian small plates that make extensive use of local produce. Drawing on a diverse range of international cuisines the menu is eclectic, as is the drink selection – one of the most original in the city.
2012 was the year of the small plate in Vancouver, a trend that transcended high and low and has spread beyond the realm of Spanish cuisine. While we undoubtedly enjoy this style of eating, which affords the opportunity to taste a variety of dishes, we found that some restaurants have begun to use tapas and family-style eating merely as excuses to avoid having to serve meals in fixed courses. Nonetheless there are a number of new spots that are doing tapas justice; the latest addition to the West End, Espana, is the best among them. With a menu consisting of traditional Spanish tapas with a decidedly contemporary twist, Espana, Denman Street’s cozy wine bar, is the sort of restaurant where you literally want to order one of everything on the menu. And with extremely reasonable prices and serving sizes on the small side, you almost can. The Sardine Can, a hole-in-the-wall, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tapas bar in Gastown, has also mastered the art of the small plate. When you step into this tiny spot you are instantly transported to the jovial, standing room only bars of Madrid. And the food is equally as authentic. Order the restaurant’s namesake, the tostas de sardinas, a delicious, salty concoction and you will not be disappointed.