Omakase at Tojo’s.
When our friends Michael and Susan proposed that we make a trip up to Vancouver to celebrate the Chinese New Year, it took us about two seconds to say yes. It had been a year since our last trip, and we’d been wanting to go back to some of our classic favorite restaurants. The parade in Chinatown sounded like it’d be fun, too.
So we packed our bags and an empty cooler, and off we went on a Friday afternoon. We arrived in time for a late dinner reservation at Tojo’s. It’s been long enough since we’ve dined there that we hadn’t yet seen the new digs. They’ve moved from a tiny second floor location, to a huge, bright ground floor restaurant.
Our meal was outstanding. Highlights included: sablefish and sea urchin in a smoky-yummy sauce inside a sea urchin shell; a sesame albacore that reminded me of our favorite starter at Kisaku (but even better), and two kinds of amazing toro nigiri. The food is special, but the bill at Tojo’s is steep. Four of us spent as much that night as ten of us would the next evening. Definitely not an everyday kind of meal.
Oyama Sausage Company; Japadog; fish at the Granville Market.
Saturday morning, we headed straight to Granville Island for coffee and doughnuts. We’d had great coffee at JJ Bean on a previous trip, rivaling some of our favorite coffees in Seattle. John and Eric waited in line, while Jacki and I walked around the corner for Lee’s Donuts. Unfortunately, the filled doughnuts I wanted weren’t ready yet, so I decided to wait. They said it would be only 15 minutes. So we grabbed our coffees (which were indeed as good as I remember), and wandered off around the market.
When we arrived back at Lee’s, there they were. The puffy, sugar-coated doughnuts were ready, with more coming out as we stood there deciding which one. I finally settled on the lemon-filled, and Eric the chocolate Bavarian. Oh, man, these were even better than last time. This was the warmest, freshest doughnut I’ve ever eaten. The lemon was oozy and sweet, but not overly, with the crunchy sugar on the exterior coating my lips as I tried not to squirt lemon everywhere (I’m sometimes a messier eater than I like to admit). Eric made some comment about how my lips looked like a margarita glass.
Bread at the Granville Market; JJ Bean coffee; the kitchen at Vij’s.
After picking up some pork lomo and speck from Oyama Sausage Company for our trip home, along with candied fennel seeds, a few pocky sticks for snacks, and matcha tea from one of our favorite Granville stands, South China Seas Trading Company, we headed back downtown.
Eric and I were torn between Japadog or Kintaro Ramen for lunch. With limited time in Vancouver, we could only do one, so we let our friends decide. With a six-year-old in party, hotdogs won out. The little stand on a street corner looked like a normal hotdog stand until you took a closer look at the menu: Terimayo, Misomayo, Okonomi, and Oroshi dogs. The Terimayo was an all-beef hotdog with Japanese mayo, nori seaweed strips, teriyaki sauce, and fried onions. With juice dribbling off my fingers, I managed to switch with Eric so I could try the Okonomi next. It was a juicy Kurobuta pork sausage with okonomiyaki sauce, bonito flakes tacked down from the breeze by Japanese mayo, on top of fried cabbage. We realized we should have ordered a third, but by this time the line was loooong, with a crowd waiting for their dogs.
Japadogs! Okonomi (top) and Terimayo (bottom).
We spent the afternoon doing a brief bit of shopping followed by a long walk from downtown to the waterfront and halfway along Stanley Park’s exterior edge, before cutting back through the duck pond and up to Denman. It was a gloriously sunny day, and all of Vancouver seemed to be out. We didn’t realize how lucky we were with that weather.
It was 4:30 when we headed off to dinner. Why so early? We had to get in line for Vij’s. We were the first in line at quarter to five, and the queue started forming moments later behind us. By the time the doors opened at 5:30, the line stretched two storefronts down! It was a good thing we arrived when we did, because our party of ten would have otherwise had hours to wait.
I’ve written about Vij’s here before, and it is still my favorite Indian restaurant anywhere. While we were deciding what to order, the wait staff served us nibbles of hot pakoras and pooris, along with complimentary chai. We ended up ordering about a dozen dishes, all good, some outstanding. I’d forgotten why the lamb popsicles are so popular, but quickly remembered – they were juicy and perfectly cooked, with that amazing cream curry. I was also a big fan of one of their simplest dishes: saag paneer. I wonder why that isn’t in their cookbook? I will make any dish in that cookbook that has paneer – the recipe is simple and turns out great. My favorite dessert this evening was the gulab jamun, which was the best version of this sticky fried dough I’ve had.
Dining at Vij’s; saag paneer.
We couldn’t leave without a stop next door at Rangoli to pick up some of Vij’s food to fill our cooler for the trip home. Rangoli is a more casual cafe along with a marketplace selling Vij’s meals, spices, and their excellent cookbook.
The next morning, we all met in Chinatown for the Chinese New Year festivities. It was a rainy, cold morning, not much different than a winter Seattle day, except for the intermittent wet snow. After staking out a prime position on the parade route, we eventually gave it up when we all started freezing, and headed over to the Classical Chinese Garden instead, where the gardens were open and booths outside were set up with face painting and crafts for the kids. While groups with their costumes assembled for the parade, dancers and drummers performed under a tent where everyone crowded in to stay dry.
Rain was constant during the parade, and umbrellas lined the curbs while the colorful groups paraded under the Millennium Gate. Firecrackers, dragons, and ox helmets were everywhere. After about 45 minutes, we left to find some dim sum to warm up with. We headed downtown to Kirin for a change from our usual visit to Sun Sui Wah.
Chinese New Year parade; dim sum at Kirin.
Instead of carts wheeling past, at Kirin you order from a menu and everything comes out made-to-order. Everything we ordered was good – definitely better than anything we can get in Seattle. My favorite was the savory radish pudding, a Chinese New Year specialty. After finishing up with some red bean and sesame desserts, we were on our way home. Short weekends like that always leave me wanting more, but fortunately Vancouver’s just a short drive away. Any tips about where we should go next time?
To see more photos from our weekend, go to our photo gallery.
Tojo’s, 1133 W Broadway, Vancouver, BC
JJ Bean, 1689 Johnston Street, Vancouver, BC
Japadog, 899 Burrard Street, Vancouver, BC
Vij’s, 1480 W 11th Avenue, Vancouver, BC
Rangoli, 1488 W 11th Avenue, Vancouver, BC
Kirin, 1166 Alberni St, Vancouver, BC