Restaurants Worth the Drive

June 1, 2009

Wondering where to find an off-the-radar spot that will turn a mini road trip into a memorable dining experience? Here are 9 spots that make the destination worth the journey.


Click on the restaurant names for a full review plus worthwhile side trips

White Rock: Onyx

Burnaby: The Pear Tree, Hanwoori, Hart House

Richmond: Sea Harbour

Steveston: Steveston Seafood House

Chilliwack: Bravo

Harrison Hot Springs: The Copper Room

Ladner: La Belle Auberge

 

Onyx
1225 Johnston Rd., White Rock, 604-542-0334. Onyxsteakhouse.ca

Hard to believe, as you zip down Highway 99 toward the border, that a few years ago those strip malls and townhomes in South Surrey were bush. And that White Rock, now chock-a-block with condos and custom view homes, used to be a sleepy collection of cabins and, on Marine Drive, tacky beachfront joints. For all the growth, though, the range and quality of dining haven’t kept pace. Earls and Cactus Club are predictably decent, and Cielo’s is fine for tapas, but only local favourite Giraffe and the newer Pearl on the Rock aspire to the sort of fine dining you’d expect in a good Vancouver restaurant. That is, until Pearl’s sister room opened atop the hill at Five Corners, in the space formerly occupied by the (lamentably named) Kimberly’s Gills and Grapes. Nicholas and Angela Popoff, the youthful, hands-on proprietors of both restaurants, has put their all into remaking the room, sourcing quality foodstuffs, hiring knowledgeable staff, and ensuring that guests are well cared for. The result—Onyx Steakhouse and Lounge—is a welcoming, understated, masculine room with a cozy lounge area (that allows for discreet viewing of the game), an alluring bar, beautifully designed bathrooms, and banquette-style seating for 60 or so.

Order The seasonal cocktails are outstanding (try the cranberry-tart, vodka-based Amour Rouge), and the detailed wine list (which encompasses everything from a Beaulieu Vineyards Cab Sav at $29 to a 2005 Château Haut-Brion at $1,800) complements unexpected appetizers (saganaki, tomato gin soup) and sturdy cuts of house-aged, Angus AAA signature reserve Alberta beef. Top marks for side dishes like the gorgonzola mac ’n’ cheese, onion rings, organic yam gratin, and the sautéed garlic pea shoots shown above; all enhance a perfectly trimmed and grilled New York strip or a flavourful, bone-in, 16-ounce rib eye.

Detour On the way back to the highway, pop into Dolce Gelato (15045 Marine Dr., White Rock, 604-535-1070), directly up from the pier. If you don’t feel like a stroll, the clamshell styro containers will keep dessert perfectly firm until you get home; there you can polish off your foresta nera, caffé, tiramisü, or cioccolato, and plan your next mini road trip.

 

The Pear Tree
4120 E. Hastings St., Burnaby, 604-299-2772. Peartreerestaurant.net

To Burnaby for dinner—why, you ask? Because tucked way out on East Hastings is a spot that combines an efficiently modern look with a comfortably relaxed ambiance and a menu that beckons diners from near and far. The award-winning Pear Tree (recently recognized, again, as Best Metro Vancouver Destination at this magazine’s 20th annual restaurant awards) specializes in a style of Pacific Northwest cuisine that both honours regional cooking and proposes new directions for it. This is an unpretentious gem of a room.

Order Hard to go wrong. Executive chef Scott Jaeger has a sure touch in the kitchen, drawing deep flavours from mainly local ingredients and turning out uncommonly fine fare. The lobster cappuccino is a must-try appetizer. The mains include an unforgettable braised lamb shank with seared scallops and roasted-pear risotto. The beef tenderloin, served with stilton polenta, onion confit, and wilted spinach, is also richly satisfying. Desserts are of equally high calibre; if the lemon tart’s on the menu—it comes with a lattice of caramelized sugar and a garnish of diced grapes and papaya—go for it.

Detour If you’ve not checked out the area lately, you’ll find the eastern reaches of Hastings dotted with shops that merit a visit. Artisan chocolates line the counter at the cozy Schokolade Café (2263 E. Hastings St., 604-253-9411; Schokoladecafe.com). Moccia (2276 E. Hastings St., 604-255-2032; Moccia.ca) supplies its stellar dry-cured pancettas and salami to restaurants like Salt and Au Petit Chavignol; get them here, along with the Moccia Urbani line of prepared foods, like meatballs, lasagne, and cappone rolls.

Hanwoori
5740 Imperial St., Burnaby, 604-439-0815

Kingsway doesn’t get a lot of love—it’s mostly to be endured on the way to Metrotown Centre or one of the Fraser River crossings. But the careful observer might notice a mushrooming of Korean eateries along the thoroughfare, particularly the stretch east of Metrotown. Hanwoori, tucked in among cut-rate stereo shops and auto mechanics, serves heartwarming, home-style Korean food, and unlike many late-night downtown joints, the vibe is family-friendly and relaxed. Spotlessly clean tables and gleaming Tiffany-style lighting say pizza parlour, but the cooking is pure Korean mom.

Order Hanwoori’s version of Momofuku’s legendary pork shoulder bossam (a Korean classic) is, quite simply, fantastic. Softly steamed pork belly, kimchi spiked with chopped raw oysters, and a variety of condiments are wrapped in blanched napa cabbage leaves; each parcel is spicy, briny, sweetly porky heaven. The kalbi tang (beef rib soup) has a telltale milkiness that indicates long, slow cooking; the Korean version of chicken soup features whole Cornish game hens stuffed with rice and slowly poached with red dates and ginseng roots. Finish with a cooling glass of shikhye, a sweet rice drink spiked with pine nuts that refreshes and clears the palate.

Detour For decades, Steve Kulash Taxidermy (3977 Kingsway, 604-437-4656) has occupied the same spot on Kingsway, just east of Boundary. The storefront is packed with everything from stuffed birds to Hemingway-worthy big-game trophies. The taxidermy work is world-class; the window display is startlingly, heartbreakingly beautiful.

Hart House
6664 Deer Lake Ave., Burnaby, 604-298-4278. Harthouserestaurant.com

From North Vancouver or downtown, Deer Lake, east of Willingdon in Burnaby, sounds like a trek. In fact, it’s a quick run out Highway 1 to Canada Way, and Hart House is only a minute or two off the Trans-Canada. Built in 1910, the original house is a mock-Tudor mansion that’s set on a beautifully landscaped acreage whose gardens run riot at this time of year.

Order Since the departure of chef Dennis Peckham, kitchen duties have been shared by three chefs: Breck Lemke, Will Lucas, and Kris Kabush. All are kept hopping by the many weddings, parties, and corporate functions Hart House hosts every year—to say nothing of the dining offered six days a week. Highlights of a recent dinner: smoked Fraser Valley duck breast with sweet-potato gnocchi and fennel, veal sweetbreads and seared scallops, and a killer dessert of chocolate presented three ways. Perhaps even better than the à la carte menu is the series of garden parties and al fresco dinners held monthly through the summer. The Lobster Supper (with wine samplings) is set for Wednesday, June 17, and priced at $52 per person.

Detour Clustered nearby (along with the city’s municipal offices and RCMP detachment) are the Burnaby Art Gallery and the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, both an easy walk from the restaurant. But the real treat is the lake itself, a tranquil expanse that provides abundant people- and bird-watching opportunities. Gangs of chickadees work the woodlands, and Canada geese swoop down and land like water bombers.

Sea Harbour
3711 No. 3 Rd., Richmond, 604-232-0816

Vancouver’s Chinese food scene is virtually unparalleled outside Hong Kong. This embarrassment of riches can be intimidating. Richmond’s high-gloss Asian eateries beckon with sophisticated authenticity, yet can seem impenetrable. Our advice? Be brave. Just a short jaunt over the Oak Street bridge, on a stretch of No. 3 once dominated by car dealerships, is Sea Harbour, a beacon of first-class Chinese cuisine. The room is a heady mix of boom-time glitz—think golden glass chargers, lights decorated with red chiffon rosettes, and a feature wall with brown marble and Chinese characters buffed to a high sheen—and the parking lot is full of shiny exotics even in these times. But you’re here for the food, and this busy room is a testament to consistently fine ingredients, flawless execution, and deferential service.

Order The emphasis is on live local seafood, so pick one powerhouse item and build your meal around it. The Dungeness crab hot pot with kabocha squash, black beans, and garlic is a signature dish. During spot prawn season, the soy-braised prawns are served with head and shell intact—a mess, but a totally delicious dining experience. Chayote squash with pork and Chinese olives leaves, hand-shredded chicken with galangal, and Dong Buo braised pork belly are exemplary, and there’s no shame in ordering its famous sweet-and-sour pork.

Detour Chinese desserts are not to everyone’s taste. Luckily, just around the corner is Aberdeen Centre, which offers a uniquely Canadian mash-up of Hong Kong life. Grab some of Beard Papa’s addictive cream puffs and check out the Maseratis at the auto accessories shop. Browse the racks at Giordano (Hong Kong’s take on the Gap,) test-drive the soothing massage chairs at the Osim shop, then load up on the dizzying array of two-dollar goodies at Daiso. It’s a trip halfway around the world, a short hop from Vancouver.

Steveston Seafood House
3951 Moncton St., Richmond, 604-271-5252. Stevestonseafoodhouse.com

There’s real Ye Olde, and fake Ye Olde. Steveston, the onetime fishing village in southernmost Richmond, is one of the last bastions of the real. Places like Dave’s Fish & Chips, Steveston Marine Hardware, and Steveston Bakery have made few concessions to the times. Ditto Steveston Seafood House, where prices have crept up with the cost of fresh fish over the years in a room that otherwise seems comfortably cocooned in the 1970s. One of the chefs has handled the pans here almost 30 years. The warm sourdough comes in a wicker basket, and desserts (heavy on the cheesecake) get trundled around on a trolley. And the seafood, despite its un-hip presentation, is as fresh and copious as it was before 26-year-old Shane Dagan, who started as a teenaged busboy, bought the place from the previous owners a couple of years ago.

Order The wine list is brief, apt, and well-priced, and the Captain Vancouver Platter—about as much salmon, halibut, prawns, scallops, king crab, clams, and mixed veggies as any two people can devour—clocks in at just under $100. All the seafood dishes are worthwhile (though the liberal use of butter has a decidedly ’70s echo).

Detour Steveston is great for a walkabout; the retail mix ranges from trinkets (of the tacky souvenir sort) to unexpected treasures, like a superb kids’ toy store and an elegant little Japanese gift stop. A stroll will eventually funnel you down to fisherman’s wharf, where you can buy fresh seafood off the boat or take your pick of half a dozen promising spots for coffee and ice cream while watching the often-spectacular sunset.
Bravo
46224 Yale Rd., Chilliwack, 604-792-7721. Bravorestaurant.ca

We have transplanted Vancouverites Danian du Plessis and Louie De Jaegar to thank for this lively, popular, unlikely oasis. Beyond the undistinguished front door lies a most un-Chilliwack-like room, designed by Wade King and somewhat reminiscent of the old Parkside (now L’Altro Buca). Hefty, well-priced cocktails (the Fellini is a knockout, though the Tequila Mockingbird wins on name alone) and an unexpectedly deep wine list ensure good libations.

Order The menu makes selection a happy problem. As a starter, wild-mushroom ravioli with gorgonzola cream superbly avoids the too-rich trap. For mains, penne with chicken in a fresh basil pesto hits the spot; risotto with grilled portobello mushroom, truffle oil, and asiago is nuanced and perfectly cooked; and the lamb osso buco with seasonal vegetables is a bounteous bargain. For dessert, pineapple upside-down cake.

Detour The cheap and cheerful Fly for Pie diner at the Chilliwack airport (46244 Airport Rd., 604-792-0814. Airportcoffeeshop.com) draws in-the-know sweet tooths for the Good sisters’ homemade pies. You’ll find at least a dozen on offer (up to 30 on weekends), and all are house-baked goodness: sour cream lemon, coconut banana, blackberry apple, raspberry rhubarb, all with a light, flaky, your-grandma-would-be proud crust (or in the case of the coconut pies, a rich shredded coconut base). Too full? Give them a day’s notice and for a $5 deposit on the pan, bring a whole one home (and have an excuse to return for a refill).

The Copper Room
at Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa
100 Esplanade Ave., Harrison Hot Springs, 866-638-5075. Harrisonresort.com

Childhood memories of Harrison: steady (sometimes stiff) breeze off the lake. Sand castle competitions. Labour conventions. Arthritic, white-robed fogeys on their way to the soothingly sulphurous waters. The Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa, the 1926 reincarnation of the original hotel (which burnt to the ground in 1920), is still going strong, and it’s worth checking out for reasons both current and nostalgic.

Order Dinner in the spacious Copper Room is a return to a bygone era. This is the land of oysters Rockefeller, filet mignon, and Bailey’s white chocolate mousse, of well-laid tables arranged around the perimeter of a hardwood floor, and a tuxedoed crooner from Chilliwack doing his best to sing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” in the key of Tony Orlando. Some of the waiters have been navigating the room for so long they could do it in their sleep, and—the revelation—some of the diners have brought their dancing shoes. There’s nothing quite so touching as a beefy, long-married couple who, on the floor, turn into an effortlessly elegant partnership. Polish off your wine (the list is respectable and reasonably priced), top off the meal with a gooey Monte Cristo coffee, then head for the open-air hot springs, gaze up at the stars, and it’s 1956 all over again. In a good way.

Detour Minter Gardens, a few clicks south, is a don’t-miss profusion of blossoms and flowers at this time of year.

La Belle Auberge
4856 48th Ave., Ladner, 604-946-7717. Labelleauberge.com

Barrel down Highway 99, pop out of the tunnel, and take the first exit. You’ll wind along Deas Slough and eventually land in Ladner’s historic village, bypassing the tract houses, strip malls, and big-box outlets that line Ladner Trunk Road. On a quiet street you’ll find La Belle Auberge, housed in a 1905 heritage farm home where owner and executive chef Bruno Marti, now in his 70s, still rules with an iron fist. Many of our city’s noteworthy chefs have spent time in his kitchen, including Scott Jaeger of the Pear Tree (page 78) whom Marti used to send out to “muck about in the mud with ducks.” Maître d’ Elmond Wong ushers guests to their table in one of five intimate dining areas (to the left, a young Asian couple puts a digital camera to work; to the right, a local couple in their 50s want everyone to know they come here often: “Was the halibut to your liking?” “Always is!”) Opera suffuses fill the room, and a stuffed pheasant surveys all from his perch on a dusty bookshelf.

Order To start, a tidy stack of lobster and perfectly caramelized scallops, or seared foie gras with apple tarte Tatin. Locally harvested morel mushrooms napped in a brandy cream are swaddled in a lighter-than-air crepe. A citrusy fresh-fruit sorbet cleanses the palate before mains like beef tenderloin with burgundy sauce and a dollop of beurre café de Paris, accompanied by a generous portion of roasted vegetables. For dessert, look no further than the chocolate hazelnut four-layer cake with passionfruit sabayon, dreamed up by DC Duby chocolates.

Detour Keep trundling along River Road past fishing boats and pleasure craft and follow the signs to the bird sanctuary. A rickety one-lane wooden bridge catapults you over the south arm of the Fraser and on to Westham Island—aka 100-Mile Diet heaven. Pick up fresh herbs from Herbs Place, ice cream topped with just-picked raspberries from Emma Lee farms, or blueberry, blackberry, pumpkin, or wildflower honey from Don Cameron’s Westham Island Apiary. There’s a 50-acre farm for sale, should this bucolic paradise prove tempting.

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