Bellingham, Washington is about 30 minutes away from Canada. And for as long as I’ve been visiting Craig and his family there, we almost always forget to bring our passports. “Let’s bring our passports this year,” Craig almost always says, “so we can go to Vancouver!” Then we get to Bellingham and hit ourselves in the heads: “D’oh, forgot them again.” This year, though, we finally remembered to bring our passports along and on the Tuesday after Christmas we hopped into his parents’ car and made the drive north.
Here’s the wait at the border:
And here’s what it looks like when you get closer:
The Canadian border patrol dude was kinda scary. “What is your purpose here?” “Just to spend a day in Vancouver,” said Craig. “Where are you coming from?” “Los Angeles.” “That’s a long way to come just to spend a day.”
We made it through ok and saw gray clouds in the distance. Then those clouds turned into actual pouring-down rain.
Lucky for me, I’d visited Vancouver before with my parents when I was in college. We stayed there before going on one of those Alaskan cruises where you see lots of ice and bears and eat lots of salmon. Anyway, if I hadn’t been to Vancouver before I might’ve been deeply unhappy with the rain. As it was, we stuck to our plan and our plan was to start on Granville Island.
On a beautiful day, Granville Island would be a great place to go. Lots of stores, lots of walking around, a pretty view of Vancouver by the water:
The part that’ll interest you most, my food-obsessed readers, is the food market:
Look at all the food you can eat in here!
With fancy stuff like this stuff:
It was a bit overwhelming, to say the least. We knew one thing: the donuts are world famous. The donuts at Lee’s Donuts:
Craig’s been going there for years and the woman who sold us our donuts said the chef’s been there for over 30 years. Look at all these donut choices:
Craig knew what he wanted, though, right away. He ordered a “honey dip”:
Me? I was feeling a bit over-sugared from the waffles Craig’s dad generously made us for breakfast. So I just had a bite of his which was still piping hot out of the fryer. It was really wonderful, a donut bite that’s not-to-be-missed.
To be honest, I was pretty much in LUNCH MODE which meant that I was on a frantic search for the right place to eat. I Tweeted to my loyal followers (are you following me on there? I’m @amateurgourmet and I need your help in situations like this!) but the responses didn’t come fast enough. I wound up here:
See, I’d never had a Montreal-style bagel. Or Montreal-style meat. This was an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: a pile of Montreal smoked meat on a salted rosemary Montreal-style bagel.
I’ll confess, at first I thought I’d made a mistake. And I’m sure, when I start reading your comments, you’ll all lambast me for missing _____ !! Or for letting this be my first Montreal-style bagel/meat experience.
But guess what? I really liked this. The bagel, well; as a passionate bagel person brought up on New York-style bagels, the Montreal-style bagel was a novelty. Sweet, dense, small. Strange. I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it. But the Montreal-style smoked meat—which was really pastrami, as far as I was concerned–was wonderful. Just fatty enough, thinly sliced, smoky.
Craig had a smoked salmon chowder that he enjoyed and then we saw this octopus on our way out:
I’d like to emphasize to you here that it wasn’t just drizzling on this day in Vancouver. I’m used to drizzling in Bellingham and Seattle. No, this was real rain. And we were getting wet.
So into the car we went and our next destination was Gastown. Many a reader had recommended that we go walk around Gastown and, sure enough, as we drove around there, we saw many a cool store and restaurant that would’ve been great to patronize on a sunny day. In the rain, we decided to go to a coffee shop. We found a coffee shop called, appropriately enough, Coffee Bar:
In there we sat and shook off our wetness; Craig ordered a macchiato and I ordered a pretty incredible hot chocolate:
They had this concentrated hot chocolate substance that they poured into the mug and then they heated milk and treated it like a latte. That was clever.
After our coffee, we did a little more driving and had a drink at a bar in the gay section of town and then, finally, drove to Vij’s.
Vij’s is a celebrated Indian restaurant that many of you recommended as THE place to have dinner. Only, when we went inside, the host–who ended up being the owner, Vikram Vij–told us there was a two hour wait. Having spent a whole wet day driving around, and knowing we still had to drive back to Bellingham, Craig shook his head “no.” I was a little disappointed until Vikram told us that the food next door at his more casual restaurant Rangoli was made “with the same ingredients and the same amount of love.” How could we say no to that?
I started with a mango lassi which was creamy and sweet and refreshing:
Then we shared cauliflower, spinach, onion and potato pakoras with daal.
Vikram, who may be the most impressive, genial restaurant owner I’ve met in a long time (the way he walks around the room and converses with every table, both in his fancy restaurant and his casual one) told us to dunk each pakora into the daal to soak it up. “That’s where all the flavor is,” he said.
And indeed he was right. The pakoras, which are like fritters, got this great, musky, earthy hit of spicy beaniness from the daal. And the green paste next to it–which I imagine was made with chiles and possibly lime juice–offered a terrific finish.
For my entree, I had the goat and jackfruit in a creamy curry with coconut cabbage salad, rice and naan:
Isn’t that a great presentation? I love how every element is presented thoughtfully. The rice isn’t just rice, it’s dusted with a green spice (not sure what). The curry is garnished with herbs, the naaan is buttery and hot and the coconut salad has all kinds of textures.
The curry was really wonderful, addictive. Craig ordered a chicken dish that the waitress said was the most popular there (I think it was their tandoori chicken). That was wonderful too with even more exciting elements on the plate:
Finally, Vikram sent over a coconut rice pudding for dessert (he felt bad that we missed Vij’s on this once-in-a-blue-moon trip to Vancouver):
Craig, who hates rice pudding, wasn’t won over by this, but I loved it. The cardamom in it made it taste like a chai tea.
And that, my friends, was our rainy day in Vancouver. We drove back that night and found the American border patrol much friendlier.
Next year, we’ll bring our passports again and hopefully the weather will cooperate. As it was, we had a fun, damp day.