The Finest Holiday Eating and Drinking

December 16, 2013

1. Outsource

And if you're going to do it, go big. For $2,100 (30 guests) Richard Boucher of Curious Oyster (778-988-4699) will arrive with all the accoutrements: natural linens, crystal servingware, white china, fragrant arrangements of winter greenery, an indulgent spread of oysters from both coasts, and a small army of bowtied shuckers. For an all-out holiday feast, look no further than Louis Gervais Fine Foods and Catering (604-904-7720) for a five-course meal served with gold pedigree plates, silver flatware, crystal glasses, ivory damask linens, and a string quartet ($9,000 for 30 people).


2. Set Your Oven Free

Order your smoked Christmas turkey ($5.25/pound) from the pit masters at Re-Up BBQ (River Market, 810 Quayside Dr., New Westminster, 604-553-3397) by the first week of December and pick up from the shop on the big day. Trust us, it's worth the trek to the 'burbs.


3. Get Crafty

Beer grew up this year. These winter ales can proudly take their place on the holiday table:
Howe Sound is the original local craft brewer. Father John's Winter Ale is a malty Vancouver tradition ($8.50 for 1 litre, 7%)
Granville Island Brewery's revamped Black Note Book Series killed it this year. Burly Goat Weizenbock is a fruit-forward winter wheat with big malt and dark colour ($5.50 for 650 ml, 8.4%)
Parallel 49's new Sahti Claws is an amber ale brewed Finnish-style with juniper berries ($5.50 for 650 ml, 7.8%


4. Raise the Bar

The Modern Bartender's Rod Moore shares his five essential tools for the home bar. "Bitters are integral to many classic cocktails, acting as a binding and balancing agent. Dutch's Colonial Cocktail Bitters ($22) are his favourite. A Japanese Yarai mixing glass ($37.95) for building your drink. A long-handled silver spoon ($23.95) mixes the perfect cocktail. A stainless steel jigger ($13.95) lets you determine how saucy the party will get. A Hawthorne strainer ($13.95) ensures a silky cocktail.


5. Make Your Spirits Bright

Evelyn Chick of Blue Water Cafe likes cocktails with ingredients that can be found in the typical pantry. "Both recipes remind me of the Christmas desserts that my mother or grandmother created. So both drinks are close to my heart."

Mary’s Secret
1 ½ oz Alberta Premium Dark Horse
½ oz Amaro Averna
½ oz cherry heering
1 tsp apricot jam
1 oz lemon juice
1 egg white
pinch cinnamon
Add all ingredients into a shaker, dry shake to emulsify. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a chilled coupé glass, and dust with cinnamon.

The All-Star Collins (non-alcoholic)
1 tsp orange marmalade
1 oz lemon juice
3 cloves
½ oz agave syrup
3 star anise
ginger beer
Combine marmalade, lemon juice, cloves, and syrup into a shaker. Strain into a chilled Collins glass. Add star anise and stir. Fill glass with crushed ice and top with ginger beer. Swizzle with a stir stick. Continue reading…


6. Go Cuckoo for Cocoa 

You don't know what you've got until it's gone-perfect reason to snatch up the inaugural Thomas Haas ONE! bar before it disappears off the shelves. Haas crafted 1,000 of these exclusive 79 percent Grand Cru chocolate bars ($11.75) to showcase a singular parcel of wild-foraged cocoa beans from Grenada. Velvety and deeply refined, each ONE! is numbered to mark its place in the limited release. And keep an eye out for two more standout seasonal chocolates ($1.30 each). There's stout and malt with crunchy praline, Guinness beer ganache, malt, and fleur de sel; and a white chocolate stollen truffle with notes of almond, butter, vanilla, mace, cinnamon, and rum to echo the flavours of Haas's iconic holiday loaf (see No.9). 


7. Drink Your Dessert

The Juice Truck's new Pumpkin Pie smoothie ($7.50) beat out 19 other competitors (like blueberry-lavender and chocolate-hazelnut) in taste tests to determine the next menu addition. Now, this healthy, seasonal concoction of organic pumpkin, coconut milk, medjool dates, bananas, and spices ("It's like a pumpkin pie and whipped cream shake," says owner Zack Berman, "only it's good for you") is the truck's most popular cool-weather item. 


8. Cater to Sensitive Souls

The holidays are tricky for those with food allergies. Fortunately, Lemonade Bakery (3385 Cambie St., 604-873-9993) stocks gluten-free seasonal specialties like gingerbread men, fruitcake, and Yule logs, all fit (and fittingly celebratory) for the wheat-averse. If dairy's the trouble, Wildebeest (120 W. Hastings St., 604-687-6880) whips up a frothy, spicy Maraska Flip cocktail-a perfect lactose-free alternative to eggnog.  


9. Break Bread

If there's one holiday treat that's profoundly divisive, it's fruit bread. In the pro camp? The city's best selection of panettone (sweet, tall, golden Milanese bread studded with dried fruit and sometimes chocolate) is at Bosa (1465 Kootenay St., 604-253-5578). Our pick is the Paluani brand, which offers incredible value ($4.69) for the quality. Germany's answer is stollen, a sweet bread chock-full of candied and dried fruit and marzipan, and dusted with icing sugar. Looking for the best? Join the lineup snaking out of Thomas Haas's patisseries (from $18. Two locations


10. Bring Shalom Home

Stop by Solly's (two locations) for fresh or frozen potato latkes (serve 'em with generous dollops of apple sauce and sour cream) and Hanukkah cookies shaped like dreidels and Stars of David. Decadent sufganiyot (that's Hebrew for jelly doughnuts) are at Sabra (3844 Oak St., 604-733-4912), but for a modern twist visit the new Cartems Donuterie (534 W. Pender St., 778-708-0996) where they'll be selling their take on sufganiyot for the Hanukkah season. New distillery Odd Society Spirits (1725 Powell St., 604-716-6745) has just released Kosher-certified vodka, gin, and unaged whisky. Mazel Tov! Continue reading…

11. Meet the New Mandarin

These robin's egg-size citrus fruits (kumquats are sweet on the outside, tart in the middle, like a Bizarro World orange) are a bite-size hit of sunshine on a chilly winter day. Pop 'em in your mouth whole for a puckering punch, slice them thin to brighten up a salad, add them to your cranberry relish on turkey day, candy them to top desserts or gussy up a cocktail, or take our chef of the year David Hawksworth's lead and pair them with a savoury dish like Korean shortribs to cut through the richness. In China kumquat plants are synonymous with prosperity, so they make a perfectly appropriate New Year's gift, too. 


12. Snack, Crackle, Pop

Chef/owner Robert Guest has been quietly revamping the menu at the stately Le Gavroche (1616 Alberni St., 604-685-3924), and his plates show a nuanced approach to modern cooking. Here he shares a simple but elegant recipe for home entertaining. 

Puffed Shrimp Rice Crisps with Caviar
1 cup rice
10 prawns
1 tsp salt
pinch of pepper
2 pieces of parchment paper
2 litres of vegetable oil
50 grams of local caviar
Boil the rice and prawns until rice is overcooked and a little mushy. Remove the prawns and discard. Roll out the rice thinly between the parchment sheets. Let sit overnight in a dry, warm place to crisp up.Pour the oil into a pot and heat to 375°F. Break off pieces of the rice cracker and drop in the oil. When the cracker floats (takes less than a minute) it's done. Serve with a little bit of smoked salmon caviar or smoked herring caviar or whatever your preference.


13. Share the Wealth

Our favourite hostess gift this season comes from Beaucoup Bakery (2150 Fir St., 604-732-4222), where one of its limited-edition items is a collection of West Coast treats. The gift-wrapped box ($50) includes mini jars of pastry chef Wendy Boys's Cocolico caramel sauce, Mellifera Bees honey collected from Lower Mainland bees, Langley's Vista d'Oro jam, Jacobsen sea salt harvested from Oregon, and Noble maple syrup from Mikuni Wild Harvest. While you're at the bakery, treat youself to the chestnut financiers with marron confit or a wreath of delicate, braided herb brioche.  


14. Do Unto Others

It's simple, really. To be a gracious party guest, don't show up empty handed (see No.13) and don't, under any circumstances, twerk.  


15. Give With Purpose

At this time of year many kind-hearted folk clear the pantry for those in need. "We greatly appreciate every donation," says Kay Thody of the Vancouver Food Bank, "and if people could take a moment to peek at labels for sugar and sodium content, send brown rice instead of white, choose whole-grain cereal…healthy doesn't have to be expensive!" For her part, Thody has taken donations like smoked-salmon-flavoured Jones Soda and foie gras bubble gum. Unforgettable, yes. "They're like culinary treasures." Useful, no. Continue reading…

16. Dabble in Black Magic

"Northern Divine caviar is the best-tasting caviar I've had since the fall of the Iron Curtain," says an enthusiastic Robert Clark, part owner of the soon-to-open, sustainable, Ocean Wise-friendly Fish Counter (3825 Main St., 604-876-3474), which happens to stock the Fraser River white sturgeon roe harvested on the Sunshine Coast. 


17. Take Shelter

It's been about a decade since Vancouver wholeheartedly embraced the culture of spirits, so it's no coincidence we're now seeing a resurgence in scotch, the most difficult, complex, and rewarding spirit there is. No offence, Pappy van Winkle. But the younger, sweeter bourbon is something of a gateway sipper, whereas scotch takes a little courting. 

Fets Whisky Kitchen
Proprietor Eric Fergie has amassed a 450-bottle war chest for the ages at his revamped restaurant. To wit: 30 different bottles just by Bruichladdich are on offer. Order: Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist, $17. 1230 Commercial Dr., 604-255-7771

Sean Heather's Gastown homage to whisky is incredible-pretty much anything you could reasonably want is here, and the brick-walled setting is perfect. Order: Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX, $17. 212 Carrall St., 604-9w 15-7338

The Blackbird
When the Donnelly Group makes its flagship location an homage to scotch, you know it's a thing. Their 70-plus bottle selection and keepin'-it-real prices make it a perfect place to start. Order: Springbank 10, $12. 909 Dunsmuir St., 604-899-4456


18. Be Prepared

West Elm delivers last-minute cheer with Party in a Box ($160). Available in a silver-and-white palette (or vivid jewel tones), each kit comes with crepe paper balls, stars, and fans to hang, six votive holders, six vintage-style champagne coupés, and a cocktail shaker.


19. Conquer the Hangover Blues

Our bartender of the year, H, prescribes the Bartender's Breakfast: two shots of espresso, two shots of whisky (or tequila for that extra built-in buzz), lots of water. The key to making it work? "You absolutely must be in bed by 5 p.m."


20. Ace the Gift Exchange

Think about it: what could be more fitting (and useful) at this time of year than a brick of rich, sweet, European-style butter? It's President's Choice's unexpectedly excellent Black Label collection for the win. $3.99. Continue reading…

21. Double Down

They don't call theirs a cronut-rather, the frissant (a hybrid of a croissant and a deep-fried fritter) is an homage to the pastry du jour originally concocted by diabolical minds at New York's Dominique Ansel bakery. So no, it's not technically the same treat that East Coasters hit Craigslist for. But with its layers of delicate fried dough and vanilla-bean speckled pastry cream, Swiss Bakery (143 E. Third Ave., 604-736-8785) proves that a cronut by any other name tastes just as sweet. 


22. Win the Cold War

Gourmet, small-batch frozen treats have taken over, so what better time to indulge in a princely pint than when sugar plums dance in the heads of these ice cream and gelato wizards:

Bella Galateria
Tiramisu, candy cane, candied chestnut, pumpkin pie, and rum and egg nog are on offer in December

Earnest Ice Cream
Egg nog, candy cane, rum raisin, and cognac vie for top billing with perennial fave salted caramel.

Campagnolo Roma
A soft-serve machine delivers quince, eggnog, and mint (a chocolate shell topping is optional).


23. Refuel

Milano Coffee's Holiday Truffle Shot ($3.30) showcases its award-winning La Futura espresso (gold medal at Italy's International Coffee Tasting competition) gussied up with master roaster Brian Turko's secret Liquid Gold booster, which adds a sweet and creamy toffee after-taste. Four locations.


24. Go Out on a High Note

The holiday season provides a perfect excuse to order Le Crocodile's decadent foie gras crème brûlée. The dish's savory caramelized crust shatters to reveal rich whipped foie gras. 909 Burrard St., 604-669-4298

Denman Street's Le Parisien serves fondue for two every Tuesday and Wednesday night throughout winter. Melted gruyère and emmental from Les Amis du Fromage is served with fresh bread baked in-house. 751 Denman St., 604-687-1418

At Maenam, Thai-style turkey dishes are available only for two weeks before Christmas: turkey mussaman curry, turkey hot and sour soup, and grilled turkey salad. 1938 W. Fourth Ave., 604-730-5579


25. Bring on the Bubbles

We asked our sommelier of the year, Araxi's Samantha Rahn, to nominate one sparkling wine to carry you through the holiday season. Her pick? Parés Baltà Brut Cava from Spain ($19.99). "This traditional-method sparkler has a lot going on for under $20. It smells amazing, with lots of fruit and flowers and underlying savoury notes, and it delivers on the palate with a sophisticated mousse and loads of refreshing, zesty flavour. It's perfect as an apéritif or for serving at your holiday shindigs, and it shines with food, especially our local seafood or vegetarian canapés. And if it matters to you like it does to many of us sommeliers, this lovely bubbly is produced by a family winery and is totally organic." 

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