Thomas Haas Patisserie – Vancouver, BC Canada

Love is the most beautiful of dreams and the worst of nightmares’

– William Shakespeare

Love, oh love, how dark, bitter and semisweet thou can be, but chocolate, I prefer thee exactly that way. As bars, truffles, fudge and cake, no person can resist the allure of chocolate. From ancient Mayan civilization to modern 21st century times, the cacao bean has been an object of seduction, temptation and satisfaction. Processing, blending, tempering, decorating and molding is not as easy as one thinks, and it takes a true artisan to master the complex craft of chocolate making. I had the privilege of meeting one such chocolatier in Vancouver, once during dinner at Le Crocodile and the following day at his newly opened patisserie and café in Kitsilano.

Born and raised in Germany as a fourth generation Konditormeister, or Master Pastry Chef, Thomas Haas was destined to follow in his great grandfather’s footsteps. His great grandfather opened Café Conditorei Haas in 1918 in the Black Forest village of Aichhalden, Germany. After graduating from school, Thomas went on to work at several Michelin starred restaurants in Europe before settling in Vancouver for his first executive pastry chef position at the Four Seasons Hotel. It was shortly after working alongside Daniel Boulud as Executive pastry chef to open the famed Michelin starred restaurant Daniel in New York that Thomas exploded onto the scene, winning numerous competitions and awards for his creations. He now runs 2 namesake patisseries in Vancouver, the original location in North Shore and the newest addition in the trendy neighborhood of Kitsilano, which happens to be right next door to Daniel Boulud’s restaurant db Bistro and Lumière.

Thomas Haas patisserie and café in Kitsilano is one of the few places in the world where you can buy handcrafted artisanal chocolates and pastries, and also enjoy it with a cup of coffee or tea. On any given day, you will see Thomas behind the counter, serving viennoiserie, packing chocolate truffles and working the cash register while answering questions and giving recommendations to customers with a friendly smile. For a busy konditormeister and restaurateur, it’s nice to see that he is so involved with the front of the house and extremely approachable. He even came over to our table with complimentary macaroons and took the time to chat with us about all of his beautiful creations.

Thomas Haas’ signature dish is the dark chocolate ganache with pecan, caramel and Brittany fleur de sel, but his silky dark chocolate ganaches with fruit flavors like cassis, rasperry, lime cachaça, lychee and passion fruit are also famous. Perfect little balls of chocolate truffles made with Jamaican rum and matcha are tantalizing, as well as his elegant pastries like raspberry financier and pistachio sour cherry tart. He doesn’t stop there- chewy caramels, pâtes de fruits, chocolate sparkle cookies in the freezer that you take home and bake, chocolate bars that come in several flavors and cocoa percentages (I love the dark chocolate rooibos-rose and milk chocolate chai), and hot chocolate made with Valrhona chocolate that come in gorgeous tins (the Aztec with chipotle and ancho chile has even made a guest appearance in a foie gras appetizer in one of my previous dinners).

Manjari chocolate cake with manjari chocolate mousse and rum crème brûlée with a cup of vanilla rooibos tea was seductively rich and subtly sweet with a slight hit of smooth rum, and the perfect dessert to follow our burger lunch at db Bistro. The white chocolate wedge printed with the Thomas Haas logo was a cute touch.

Cassis, chocolate, vanilla and passion fruit macarons were an absolute delight, and some of the best macarons that I have ever had, rivaling the Pierre Hermé, Fauchon and Ladurée versions that I have had in Paris. A perfect crunchy outermost layer, deceptively thin, that gives way much easier than expected to a moist meringue that collapses around the flavor packed center filling. The passion fruit is my favorite, as the filling is made with the perfect balance of sweet and tart, but they’re all light and soft with a clean finish.

Thomas Haas’ award winning chocolates and pastries in Vancouver are absolutely worth the trip, and Thomas makes the visit even more worthwhile by creating a unique atmosphere for those who want to stay for a cup of coffee and scrumptious pastries. His North Shore store, which houses the main kitchen, is constructed to look like the inside of a chocolate box. The Kitsilano location takes a more scientific approach to its decor, where the door frame is inscripted with the molecular structure of theobromine, the primary alkaloid found in cocoa and chocolate, and the mirrored ceiling tiles represent the structure of this chocolate molecule.

Love can be dark and bittersweet, but Thomas Haas’ dark and bittersweet chocolate creations will make you forget about lost loves and make everything just perfect.

Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates and Patisserie

Kitsilano store:

2539 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC V6K 2E9, Canada
(604) 736-1848

Random trivia: Did you know that chocolate contains over 1500 flavor components? Just like coffee or wine, chocolate has many different flavors due to complex layering of distinctive notes like cinnamon, tobacco, berries and rose. The origins of the beans (Ghana, Jamaica and Venezuela, for example), process of fermentation, soil and roasting process all contribute to distinct subtleties in flavors, which is one of the reasons why chocolate pairs with wine so well.

DB Bistro Modern- Vancouver, BC Canada

Vancouver is no longer just a destination for nature lovers and winter athletes.  The city is quickly gaining a reputation for being a culinary mecca where the diversity of cuisine ranges from Japanese hot dogs and chic wine bars to innovative Belgian fare and traditional French dining.  With more internationally acclaimed chefs opening restaurants and cafes, the dining scene in Vancouver is rapidly evolving.  Jean-Georges Vongerichten has a successful Canadian outpost called Market, bringing his sophisticated style of cuisine to the west coast.  A stiff competitor to this world renowned chef is another award winning Michelin star French chef Daniel Boulud, most famous for his namesake restaurant Daniel in New York which is considered one of the best restaurants in the world.

Like Jean-Georges, Daniel Boulud has his feet firmly planted in New York where he runs Daniel, DBGB Kitchen and Bar, Café Boulud, db Bistro Moderne and Bar Boulud while spreading his talents abroad in cities like Palm Beach, London, Beijing and Las Vegas (Daniel Boulud Brasserie in Las Vegas just closed a few months ago).  He is the author of several cookbooks, a successful restaurateur and a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, an honor granted to him by the French government for his contribution to the culinary arts. There is no stopping this power house, who now boasts 2 Canadian outposts to his résumé.

In December of 2008, Boulud opened 2 restaurants on West Broadway in the trendy upscale neighborhood of Kitsilano- db Bistro Moderne, the casual sister restaurant to its Manhattan original, and Lumière, a Grand Chef Relais & Chateaux restaurant that offers upscale fine dining.  Rather than to sit through a long dinner at Lumière, which I would love to do on another trip, we opted to try db Bistro Moderne for a casual relaxed lunch that would comply with our busy itinerary.  Chef de Cuisine Nathan Guggenheimer oversees the kitchen here where French bistro food is given a Pacific Northwest twist with fresh local seafood and seasonal produce.

Prix fixe lunches are one way to go, where country pork terrine, coq au vin and rhubarb sundae can be had for a reasonable price, but I wanted a db burger and one of their tarte flambées, their specialités de la maison.  We started our à la carte lunch with the spring greens salad, a mixture of radishes, carrots and mesclun tossed in creamy hazelnut dressing over yellow beet carpaccio.

Wild mushroom and barley soup, topped with an earthy mushroom foam, was filled with generous juicy chunks of porcini, morel and crimini mushrooms.  It was the perfect medium for dipping their various breads, especially the airy focaccia and buttery baguettes.

The highlight of the lunch was the BC spot prawn plate, succulent sweet local crustaceans at the peak of their short season.  The prawns, served with shaved fennel, garlic and parsley, were so fresh that we spent our time carefully sucking out all of the savory innards from each prawn head.  Table manners weren’t an issue, as all of the adjacent tables were enjoying the sweet prawns with equally loud slurping noises.

db Bistro Moderne offered 4 types of tarte flambées, crispy Alsatian flatbreads, for lunch- wild mushrooms, smoked bacon & onion, smoked bacon & Gruyere, and smoked bacon & snails.  We couldn’t resist ordering the snail flatbread, which was delicate in presentation yet full of wonderful flavors.  The thin flatbread was sensationally crisp and light, with the meaty escargot dancing in a sensuous tango with the smokey bacon.

As much as I love burgers and the New York dining scene, I was still a DB Burger virgin, uninitiated to the famous mound of juicy meat and decadent ingredients that has become somewhat of a legend.  I was hoping for the full monty, the couture version with foie gras in the center, but the ‘original DB Burger’ offered here at the Vancouver outpost came sans foie.  A juicy patty of sirloin filled with red wine braised short ribs and black truffle served on a parmesan and poppy seed bun with oven roasted tomato confit, red onions, horseradish, fresh tomatoes and frisée fell short of my expectations, but the crispy pommes frites were superb.

db Bistro Moderne is a great place for a casual yet delicious meal that will please Kitsilano shoppers, business lunchers, romantic dates and hungry gourmands alike.  It may be wise to forego the burger in lieu of their crispy flatbreads and anything that features fresh catches from the local waters, but you really can’t go wrong with any dish at this respected establishment.  The beautiful dining room is especially inviting during the day when the bright afternoon sun shines through their large windows.  For the ultimate splurge and special occasion, Lumière next door is the culinary jewel where you will find world class fine dining and exceptional service.

DB Bistro Moderne

2551 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC V6K 2E9, Canada
(604) 739-7115

Random trivia: Did you know that 98% of barley grown in the United States will never make it into your soup?  Almost half of the entire crop is used for brewing beer, and the majority of the remaining crop is used for feeding livestock.