Read the rest of Ton-Ton's Journey: Vancouver 2007.
Chubbypanda: "I think this is Skid Row."
Cat: "Looks like."
Chubbypanda: "Was that a prostitute?"
Cat: "I don't know. She looked too dressed. That's a prostitute."
Chubbypanda: "That's a guy."
GPS Unit: "In 300 feet, turn left."
Chubbypanda: "Erm... There is no left."
GPS Unit: "Recalculating... In 0.1 miles, turn right."
Cat: "I think we're going in a circle."
GPS Unit: "In 200 feet, turn left."
Chubbypanda: "THERE IS NO LEFT!!!"
GPS Unit: "When possible, make a U-turn."
Chubbypanda: "Now I'm scared."
(Doing some research.)
-=Earlier that day=-
Having had my fill of Asian eats, I was in the mood to sample some proper Canadian food. A fusion of British and French cooking techniques that emphasizes fresh, local ingredients, Canadian West Coast cuisine is very similar to California cuisine. The Cannery Seafood House in Vancouver is purportedly the best place in the entire city to sample it. Of course, as seemed to be the theme during this trip, getting there was half the experience.
Cat, Ton-Ton, and I found ourselves driving up and down Powell and East Hastings in an area of the city so steeped with "character" that I almost didn't bother stopping at intersections. Tell any Vancouver native that you were wandering there late at night and the conversation will instantly be replaced with both silence and an intent gaze, as if he or she is trying to discern the degree of your madness. Add a pimp black Mustang and a GPS unit that repeatedly insists that a left turn through steel pylons is possible, and you've got the ingredients for any number of CSI episodes.
(The Port of Vancouver.)
Cat and I finally found the right street after figuring out where the GPS unit actually thought we were. We crossed a high bridge to be greeted by a formidable set of gates, a guard house, several watch towers, an immense security fence strung with barbed wire, and an intimidating intercom box with several buttons. Welcome to the Port of Vancouver.
After fumbling my way through an explanation for an exasperated security guard who had obviously had to deal with too many lost diners that evening, the gates swung open. To my surprise, we were directed to follow the road into the Port itself. With every slasher flick I'd ever seen running through my mind, we made our way deeper into the forbidding complex. Hulking cargo containers lined our path, scattered with no apparent rhyme or reason between warehouses with gaping doors opening to velvet nothing. We passed shipyards, curving forests of scaffolding and half-built vessels with exposed ribs reaching desperately towards the sky. I was beginning to consider turning back when the road turned sharply to reveal the restaurant, a bright beacon in the night.
The gravel-filled lot in front of the Cannery Seafood House was filled with cars with license plates from all over, including provinces as far away as Saskatchewan. A few minutes later, we entered another world, a twisting warren with dim, comfortable lighting, dark wooden beams, and gleaming white linen. Nets, ladders, a rowboat, and other seafaring items had been stylishly incorporated into the décor. A ship's boiler had been converted into a roaring fireplace that warmed the restaurant.
(Too little for wine.)
Executive Chef Frédéric Couton is the genius behind the Cannery Seafood House. A French chef with an impressive pedigree, Chef Couton has helped make the Cannery's menu the very embodiment of the terms seasonal, fresh, and sustainable. The restaurant only serves wild-caught or sustainably farmed seafood, and recently removed all sturgeon caviar from its menu. Instead, Chef Couton offers a selection of kelp caviars, naturally growing vegan substitutes highly praised as being both healthy and delicious. With Chef Couton at the helm, both your tongue and your conscience are in good hands.
The first of our many dining epiphanies that evening began when our waiter brought us the standard basket of warm bread. The bread itself was quite good. However, that wasn't what made our eyes widen in shock.
The innocuous-looking plate of oil and balsamic vinegar served with the bread was a gustatory call to arms. Chef Couton's Olive & Ciboulette Lobster Oil held in its shimmering depths the concentrated richness of ten burly crustaceans. Each delectable drop coated the tongue, releasing a complex aroma that practically screamed, "LOBSTER!!! OH, YES! LOBSTER!!!", then throatily whispered about herbs and spices. If I'd known then that the restaurant bottles and sells the oil, I'd have come home with a crate.
After such a fulfilling experience, the Lobster Bisque was somewhat anti-climactic. Our waiter brought a wide soup bowl containing a few generous pieces of lobster, set it on the table, and finished the dish by filling the bowl with piping hot bisque. Despite its thickness, the soup was surprisingly light and flavorful, having gotten its velvet texture through pureeing rather than the liberal use of cream and butter. However, it just couldn't compete with the bodice-ripping presence of the Olive & Ciboulette Lobster Oil.
The Roasted Mussels, on the other hand, leapt into the fray with a valve-snapping roar. The impossibly fresh shellfish had been tossed in a Beurre Noir (Black Butter Sauce) with rosemary, bits of chorizo sausage, pine nuts, and capers, then roasted under high heat until their obsidian armor popped open. Served on a sizzling hot, cast iron plate, the mussels were plump and bursting with a heady mix of pork fat and maritime fun. Steaming would have sweated out some of their natural bouquet; roasting had seared the mussels' juices inside to be released once they were in your mouth.
Somewhat more virtuous, Cat's pristinely grilled British Columbia Trout had been dusted with cracked black pepper and served with a lemon butter sauce, sautéed seasonal vegetables, and a small mound of mashed potatoes. The moist, flaky meat had her enraptured as she murmured, "Such a good fish," over and over to herself.
My pepper-crusted, Smoked Alaskan Black Cod was a darkly handsome slab of sablefish that swept my taste buds off my tongue and onto a sinful bed of roasted potatoes, wild mushrooms, and grilled asparagus. Firm, yet with a delicate texture, the meat wasn't flaky at all. Instead, its almost gelatinous sweetness was tempered by the bold aroma the smoking had given it. The chive and lemon butter sauce pooled at the bottom of the plate provided brightness to the vegetables.
Heads reeling from Chef Couton's masterful culinary manipulation, we decided to center ourselves with tea and dessert. Cat opted for the soothing richness of Crème Brulee, served with fresh berries.
I opted for the Chocolate and Green Tea Mousse, which actually turned out to be a stack of two different mousses, one green tea and one dark chocolate, on a foundation of chocolate cake. An artistic squiggle of raspberry coulis terminating in one of the actual fruits drew the eye along the plate. The green tea mousse had grassy tones that complimented the bitter-sweet chocolate, while the raspberry coulis could be used to add a tart note. With the hot tea, it was an excellent end to the evening.
The Cannery Seafood House - A perfect dining adventure. I later learned that the best way to get to the restaurant is to cut over to Clark early, then take it all the way in to the Port of Vancouver. If you use 49th or King Edward, you'll avoid most of the Skid Row area. If you're coming from Downtown or North Van, however, you're out of luck. East Hastings is still the quickest way there.
The Bill (in Canadian dollars):
Lobster Bisque - 13.50
Roasted Mussels - 15.50
British Columbia Trout - 23.00
Smoked Alaskan Black Cod - 36.00
Crème Brulee - 7.75
Chocolate and Green Tea Mousse - 8.50
Tea (for two) - 5.30
The Cannery Seafood House
2205 Commissioner Street
Vancouver, BC, V5L 1A4
1-877-254-9606 (Toll free)