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.

Hatchi series at the Breadbar- Walter Manzke

There’s nothing I love more in life than traveling and eating.  I love my hometown of Los Angeles, but on any given day I’d rather be overseas exploring foreign lands and sampling exotic delicacies.  Both through work and for fun, I’ve somehow managed to travel to over 15 countries in the last 2 years- and this doesn’t even include my annual trips to Japan to visit my family.  Traveling the world is exciting, but with unpacked suitcases and travel gear perpetually scattered all over the floors of my house, even this enthusiastic globetrotter can feel weary of planes, trains and automobiles sometimes.  Fortunately, at the most recent Hatchi dinner event at the Breadbar in Century City, I was able to take a virtual trip around the world without packing my carry-on or even leaving my zip code.

The Hatchi dinner event, created by Ironnori concepts in collaboration with the Breadbar, has been introducing a guest chef every month for a special evening of 8 dishes for $8 each (Hatchi means 8 in Japanese).  With past appearances by both up and coming chefs and already established chefs, enthusiastic diners have had the opportunity to enjoy innovative and delicious food for a bargain price while chefs have enjoyed complete freedom to showcase their vision.  I’ve had some spectacular dinners at the Hatchi event with Remi Lauvand, Marcel Vigneron, Ricardo Zarate, Saul Cooperstein and Brian Redzikowski.  For June, in a rare motion of featuring a well established and already famous chef who really doesn’t need such a venue to promote himself, Hatchi featured Walter Manzke, formerly of Bastide and recently the anchor behind Church & State.  Since leaving the restaurant a few months ago, Manzke has been searching for a new place to call home, amidst much talk and anticipation from his LA fans who fell in love with his hearty bistro fare at Church & State.  His Hatchi dinner, called ‘Around the World…in 8 dishes’, featured dishes that represented flavors from 8 different countries, from the Far East to just south of the border.
As we perused the menu, an amuse bouche of shrimp cocktail shooters came to the table.  Lightly grilled shrimp on skewers were sweet and succulent, while clear cocktail sauce in a shot glass went down quite easily, surprising us with its unexpectedly deep and complex flavors.  The lack of color at first tricked my brain into assuming that the liquid was going to taste like something watered down, but how surprising that it tasted just like refined cocktail sauce with a clean tomato water-like flavor.

Warm and toasty Breadbar epi bread was offered for an extra charge with either French Echire butter or foie gras butter, and without hesitation or even a second thought, we ordered the rich and decadent block of what almost tasted like pure foie gras coated with honey gelée and accessorized with gold flakes to up the bling factor.

The first stop on our global Manzke tour was south of the border in Mexico, represented by a yellowtail ceviche dish with tomatillo sorbet, a dollop of avocado cream, microgreens and citrus wedges.  The cold tomatillo sorbet was surprisingly refreshing and light, working in unison with the citrus to complement the fattiness and juiciness of the tender yellowtail sashimi.

Flying across the Pacific Ocean, we arrived in the Land of Smiles, Thailand, for one of my favorite dishes of the evening.  Although I love a good mussel dish, I’m rarely ever impressed with any restaurant rendition- this one was different.  The perfectly cooked mussels were plump and savory in the white corn curry soup which was silky, sweet and bursting with flavor.  Little round tapioca pearls and whole peanuts hiding inside of the white soup added playful textures to each spoonful of coconut milk heaven that I hastily ladled into my mouth down to the last drop.

Manzke’s interpretation of the classic Vietnamese banh mi sandwich came in little slider buns hugging a thick juicy wedge of deep fried breaded pig trotters with fresh crisp vegetables.  The braised trotters were made into a juicy croquette that exploded with fatty flavors into a molten pool of heaven inside my mouth, and I almost wished that there was a bigger presence of pickled vegetables and an addition of jalapeño to cut through the heaviness.  Sriracha and aioli dots on the white plate were so small that they didn’t quite function as a sauce, although the small dip that I managed to get on my banh mi was excellent.

 Jetting across the Asian continent in a non-stop flight to Europe landed us in one of my favorite countries in the world, Spain.  One of the highlights on my trip to Barcelona last year was the scrumptious plate of gambetas at Tapaç 24.  Little did I know that I would get so close to that heavenly plate of sweetness here in Century City in Manzke’s dish of Santa Barbara spot prawns fried in garlic sherry sauce and garnished with a heap of chopped green olives, almonds and tomatoes.  The key to a perfect plate of shrimp is using fresh shrimp, and I could tell that these crustaceans were still alive in the kitchen when they hit the hot pan because of its plump flesh, delicate flavored orange eggs and green innards that I sucked clean off the shell.  Table manners went out the door as I used the entire palmar surface of my flattened index finger to sweep the sauce off the plate into my mouth.

A quick high-speed train ride on the TGV with a transfer in Paris Gare de l’Est landed us in Alsace, close to the French German border, for a savory tarte flambée made with caramelized onions, bacon and gruyere.  The tarte was pre-cut into square pieces so that we could dive right into these wonderful delights made on the perfectly baked thin crispy canvas.

Going down south into the Italian boot using a summer Eurail pass, we enjoyed our molto bene pasta dish of English pea ravioli with parmesan cheese shavings and a soft poached egg that oozed rich yellow yolk all over the dish.  The pea ravioli filling was creamy and sweet, although a bit boring after the modernized banh mi and spot prawn dishes.

Instead of taking the transatlantic route back home, we went through Southeast Asia to the Philippines for some leche flan with molecular sweet coconut pandan.  The dense and sweet caramel flan was topped with crunchy rice crisps, coconut ice cream, heavenly and luscious coconut foam and a shard of sugar glass that we all enjoyed.

What’s a trip through Asia without a stop at Narita airport?  The final destination on our global tasting tour was my home country Japan, Land of the Rising Sun.  There really wasn’t anything Japanese about the chocolate fondant with Bing cherries, black sesame ice cream and arare rice crisps, nor the hot chocolate in a shot glass topped with green tea foam, but we didn’t really care at this point- as with any long journey, we were getting full and saturated, and ready to head home.

Taking a trip ‘Around the World…in 8 dishes’ means that we come right back to where we started.  As we were winding down from dessert, we got a fellow visitor to the table who presented us with a first class ticket back to the Americas.  My good friend Bill Esparza brought over a bottle of Volcán de mi Tierra tequila that whisked us right back to Mexico where we commenced our exciting journey with a fantastic dish of yellowtail ceviche.  I closed my eyes as I felt the heat of the smooth tequila spreading through my esophagus into the core of my body to intoxicate me further into a state of bliss.  When I opened my eyes, I was back home in Los Angeles.  8 countries in 3 hours- was it a dream, or did it really happen?  I smiled as I looked down in front of me and saw the proof:  like stamps in a passport, the colorful food and wine stains on my Walter Manzke Hatchi menu were evidence that I indeed made this culinary journey around the world.

Breadbar at Century City

Century City Mall
10250 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90067
(310) 277-3770

Upcoming Hatchi events:

July 29th- Makoto Okuwa: Power of Miso

August 26th- Chicks with Knives: Love & Kisses & BBQ!

September 30th- Steve samson

Random trivia:  Did you know that falling coconuts kill approximately 150 people every year – 10 times the number of people killed by sharks?