“When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” the famous saying goes, conveying the notion that visitors should respect and understand other cultures by following local customs and traditions, but when I travel, my motto is “When in Rome, eat as the Romans do.” One of the best ways to enjoy travel is to indulge in local delicacies, regional specialties and seasonal foods- a trip to Japan is not complete without sushi, a stroll through Paris is meaningless without freshly baked buttery breads, Italy is not the same without a real homemade pasta dish, and delectable tapas washed down with vino tinto is a must in Spain. On a recent trip to Vancouver in June, I was determined to have BC (British Columbia) spot prawns, which were at the peak of their harvest season, not to mention Canadian salmon, fresh oysters and other locally caught seafood.
There are many seafood establishments in Vancouver, given its obvious geographical location, but we opted for a casual night out at Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar in the trendy neighborhood of Yaletown. Blue Water Cafe is housed in an old warehouse with red brick and wooden beam construction on Hamilton Street, a brick-paved sidewalk lined with hip boutiques, galleries and restaurants in what used to be Vancouver’s garment district. Heading the kitchens of Blue Water cafe since 2003 is Executive Chef Frank Pabst, who has trained at Michelin-star rated restaurants in Germany and France, and sushi master Yoshi Tabo who tends to the raw bar. Together they serve exceptional fresh seafood fare using wild and sustainable harvest seafood at this restaurant that is noted for being a founding member of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program.
Fresh seafood is the clear attraction in this beautiful restaurant where diners come for the casual atmosphere and exceptional service in the large dining room decked out in rustic maritime decor. Many were indulging in the Blue Water Cafe Seafood Tower, a three-tiered ocean extravaganza with oysters, prawns, tuna, clams, mussels, ceviche, smoked salmon, lobster and sushi rolls, paired with local BC Rieslings and Chardonnays, while others snuggled up to the sushi bar for sashimi and rolls. We were lucky enough to snag the last serving of fresh BC spot prawns, served raw with soy sauce and wasabi. These local crustaceans were saturated with sweetness and so plump that they had a nice sharp crunch on the bite.
My favorite way to enjoy prawn heads is a simple deep fry with a generous squeeze of citrus. These BC spot prawns, which were swimming around in the tank until the minute before preparation, were some of the best that I’ve ever had, full of savory green tomalley and bright orange eggs that imparted an indescribable umami to each bite. BC spot prawn harvest season begins in May and only lasts for 8 weeks, so we were extremely lucky in timing our trip to overlap with this season. We missed the annual BC spot prawn festival which is held at False Creek Fisherman’s Wharf, and didn’t get to sample all of the spot prawn specialty dishes at famed local restaurants like Vij’s and C Restaurant, but this simple raw preparation of fresh prawns at Blue Water Cafe was enough to satisfy my cravings.
I was ecstatic to see a whole page dedicated to oysters on their menu, with selections heavily weighted on local BC bivalves and a few from Washington state and the East Coast. Of course, we ordered a BC platter, starting with the small plump Kusshi oysters from Cortes Island with a smooth and soft buttery texture. Going from smallest to largest, the next were the Black Pearls from Quadra Island with a light and refreshing lettuce finish. The Effingham Inlets from Barkley Sound, plump oysters in long blond shells, had a stronger flavor with a briny finish. Beach Angels from Read Island were my favorite with its plump fatty flesh and pleasant briny finish. Marina’s Top Drawer from Cortes Island had a flatter shallow shell with sweet fruity flesh while Fanny Bays from Nanaimo Bay, usually my favorite type of oyster, had a disappointingly muddy taste.
Dungeness crab salad, shrimp cocktail, baked scallops, or smoked sockeye salmon terrine? All of the seafood appetizers sounded wonderful, but we went with the Albacore tuna carpaccio, a spice crusted thinly sliced delicately flavored carpaccio presented as a Niçoise salad. Sweet smokey roasted red peppers, crunchy haricot verts, sliced eggs, crunchy cucumbers, tart radish slices, salty kalamata olives and microgreens all dressed in a wonderful anchovy vinaigrette were the perfect complement to the locally caught white tuna.
All of their seafood entrees sounded divine, like the white sturgeon with chioggia beets, miso sake glazed sablefish and Arctic char with braised leeks and fennel. Our server was enthusiastic about the special of the day, grilled wild salmon with romesco sauce and broccolini served on a bed of basmati rice, chorizo, squid and shellfish beurre blanc saffron sauce, and so were we. There’s really nothing better than locally caught wild proteins prepared with simple ingredients that enhance their natural inherent flavors.
A trio of sorbets- an incredibly tart cassis, a sweet guava and a creamy banana- garnished with berries and sliced star fruit ended our wonderful seafood dinner at Bluewater Cafe.
There are an infinite number of seafood establishments in Vancouver that offer the local ocean’s bounty, from oyster shacks and Chinese dim sum carts, to sushi bars and harbor view fine dining restaurants. With seafood so fresh and flavorful, you almost can’t go wrong at any seafood joint, but the Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar is a true gem where you can savor both Western and Eastern preparations of fish, crustaceans and bivalves in one sitting. A leisurely after-dinner stroll along the brick-paved streets of Yaletown for people watching and window shopping is the perfect way to walk off a full and content belly.
1095 Hamilton Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 5T4, Canada
Random trivia: Did you know that spot prawns are protandric hermaphrodites, born as and spending their first 2-3 years of life as males, then changing into females to lay eggs at the end of their life cycle?