It’s Vancouver Foodie Tours’ New Guilty Pleasures Gourmet Tour!
After some revamping and a short hiatus, the Vancouver Foodie Tours are back! Last year I tried their Vancouver’s Food Carts & Food Trucks tour which is now called The World’s Best Street Eats Tour and this year they have added a new one. The creator and host, Michelle Ng, is introducing her latest tour called the Guilty Pleasures Gourmet Tour which I was invited to experience. It’s a walking food tour in downtown Vancouver, BC and includes 5 food stops with tastings and a few drink pairings. Michelle guides you along the way while pointing out attractions and her favourite dining spots. The intimate tour is arranged for a maximum of 12 people per tour and is $69/person.
As a local and “foodie” in Vancouver, I was curious where this Guilty Pleasures Gourmet Tour would take us. As “foodies” we all think we know “the best” places to eat, but when it comes down to it, food and tastes are so personal. All these food tours are always based on who created them, so that’s the key to finding one right for you. Although these tours are open to locals and tourists, I felt this one catered to tourists which is not really a surprise. Most of the spots were rather known from my perspective, but they were nice choices and showed a good variety. Although it was called “Gourmet Tour” I wouldn’t say it was really “gourmet” because the places and food were rather affordable, although the drink pairings made it a bit more sophisticated.
Generally the tour was a comfortable walk in downtown and Michelle was a friendly host. It was well paced and organized and by the end of it I was full, but not stuffed. That’s a good thing. However I do feel it was more about the experience than the food itself, but I’m also a local foodie so I have my own preferences. As a tourist it would save you time from researching and navigating a city to find the best places to eat, but for someone like me, I take pleasure in doing the foodie research. However doing it on my own I wouldn’t be able to go in, have a sample and move on, and this tour gives me that option. It provides convenience and ease as well as an opportunity to meet new people.
Due to the nature of the tour, I’m not going to get into much detail about the food. They were more or less sample sized bites which aren’t really representable of the restaurant, but gives you a taste of what they offer.
The meeting spot was also the first stop which was Kirin Seafood Restaurant. Chinese food is a huge part of “Vancouver cuisine”. It is widely known to have the best Chinese food outside of China and I found this an appropriate stop. Although it’s not my personal favourite for dim sum, I would say it’s highly acclaimed and rated. It is probably the only Chinese restaurant I would go to for dim sum in downtown Vancouver.
Kirin is Vancouver’s most famous fine dining Chinese restaurant with 5 locations in Metro Vancouver. My personal favourite is the New Westminster location (see here), and yes the food does vary at each one. The food is generally good, although some argue pricey for others competing in the same caliber. This is an obvious choice, but it’s not a disappointing choice.
We started with the Steamed Prawn and Pork Dumpling (Shao Mai) which is a popular dim sum dish. Ideally it would be great for them to offer the Prawn Dumpling (Har Gow) because that is the dim sum staple. The Shao Mai was good though and it was plump and moist with about 50% tender pork and 50% crunchy hand chopped shrimp. There was some Shiitake mushrooms mixed in and they were good for Shao Mai. Red Star Seafood also has really good Shao Mai – see here.
Next up was the Sticky Rice with Pork and Dried Scallop in Lotus Leaf. Upon opening it up I saw the dried scallop purposely planted on top which is a Chinese delicacy. Usually it would be incorporated in the rice and/or meat stuffing, or in many cases you wouldn’t even get it at all. Anyway it was very “Kirin” of them to do that just to show what you’re paying for, but I couldn’t find any dried scallop anywhere else. The inside was stuffed with minced pork, Shiitake mushroom and salted duck egg yolk in a soy based gravy. It was moist, saucy, filling and good and we each got our own which was generous.
855 Burrard Street
The next stop was very unexpected and it was the Sutton Place Wine Merchant. It is the wine shop attached to the Sutton Place Hotel. The wine shop features boutique BC wines so it was more special than going to The BC Liquor Store, however it was still a bit random. Here we sampled Domaine de Chaberton Bacchus paired with Lesley Stowe Raincoast Crisps and local preserves.
Personally I wasn’t so keen on it being a stop on a food tour, or at least there should have been more food. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t an actual restaurant or food stop and it felt more like a bonus stop along the way. Having wine was an appreciated surprise for those who enjoy wine, but I just think it was a bit of a narrow choice for the general public. As a local you might not value the items we sampled since it’s likely things you’ve tried it, but as a tourist you might .
990 Smithe Street
Ensemble Tap is Food Network Canada’s Top Chef Season 1 winner’s Chef Dale MacKay’s newest restaurant. Being that this was a food tour with foodies who probably watch Food Network (whether they admit to it or not), this restaurant would likely be of interest. Many foodies will get their restaurant recommendations through eating shows on Food Network, and just as many will deny that that’s where they sourced it from. I mean how many times have you heard a foodie say “I saw this on The Best Thing I Ever Ate” or “I saw this on Triple D!” (Sh*t Foodies Say).
Anyway it was a good choice and I was actually really excited because I knew we were going to have the famous BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich. We each got a full size sandwich which I found extremely generous, but I ate it very happily. For many, this alone could have been lunch, but for people on this tour it was likely a “snack”. It was paired with Red Truck Ale and although I’m not a beer drinker (still in the learning process), it does speak for the restaurant and their pride in local artisan beers.
The tour even included a printed copy of the Award Winning BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich recipe to take home! For an excellent pulled pork sandwich this is one I personally recommend to locals and tourists as well.
Part of the Ensemble Tap experience included a kitchen tour. Unfortunately Chef was out of town, but otherwise he would likely be there. At every establishment we stopped at the host of the restaurant would give us a bit (or at times a lot) of background information. Kirin was the only one that didn’t do this, which was expected and more or less part of cultural “tradition”.
I think this was my favourite part of the whole tour. This was 7kg of pulled pork bathing in delicious pork juices and an intense marinade. I seriously wish I had brought a backpack… actually let’s be realistic, I mean a bigger purse and some Tupperware. Looking at this picture makes me want to smell my computer screen and I can almost smell the aromas of pulled pork through my monitor right now. Lifting up this lid was better than the scent of a bouquet of roses.
833 Granville Street
Japanese food is another must and I consider sushi as a “Vancouver staple”. The city has endless sushi places and our Japanese food scene is strong. For those thinking “it’s better in Japan”, of course it is! But we’re in Vancouver and I still think it’s great here. Apparently the restaurant has the greatest sake selection so they started us off with Artisan Sake Maker’s Osake Junmai Nama. Michelle pointed out that the box was given because traditionally in Japan they would pour the sake until it overflowed the shot glass to show generosity. In Vancouver, the box is more for style.
I haven’t been to Shuraku Sake Bar & Bistro in ages, but I’ve had good experiences in the past. I have my preferences for izakaya, but I was pleased with the samples we had here. This was the Spicy Salmon Tartare – Raw wild sockeye salmon mixed with avocado, topped with pine nuts, green onion and our housemade spicy sauce. Finished with a raw quail egg on top – $6.99. This is not how it is normally served and this was a one bite sample, but based on this I would come back and order it.
The next dish we sampled was the Agedashi Tofu – deep fried tofu steeped in our house made sweet dashi stock – $5.50. It was very good Agedashi Tofu, but it was also Agedashi Tofu, so it wasn’t exactly as special for a restaurant that is capable of more. The dish is not normally served like this.
Other izakaya places in downtown Vancouver that I’ve tried include: Guu with Garlic, Guu on Thurlow, Guu Aberdeen, Guu with Otokomae, Suika, Kingyo, Hapa Izakaya – Yaletown post, Hapa Izakaya – Robson post, and Hapa Izakaya – Kitsilano post, Gyoza King, and Alpha Global Sushi + Bar.
1001 West Cordova Street
Ending the Guilty Pleasures Gourmet Tour quite appropriately with dessert as the last stop was Bella Gelateria. This choice nailed the hammer on the head. There really isn’t a better place for gelato in Metro Vancouver and I feel quite confidently saying that. Dolce Gelato in White Rock is the only thing that comes close, but White Rock is about 45 minutes to an hour drive away from downtown. For gelato this is it though and this is a place I recommend to locals and tourists too. On the tour you also get a behind the scenes peek at their small operation and gelato making process. To finish, everyone gets a small cup of Salted Caramel Gelato and Meyer Lemon Sorbetto. For more about Bella Gelateria see my post here.