Vancouver, Canada has a picturesque setting, where you can hit the beach or the mountains, trek in the temperate rainforest or use its 200 miles (322km) of bicycle tracks.
But as much as the Vancouverites are active and sporty, they also eat, drink and party well too. This city is a foodie's paradise and its multi-ethnic character shows in its myriad restaurants ranging from Vietnamese and Chinese to Indian and Greek. Vancouverites love their caffeine and we find them everywhere with a latte in their hands.
Lots of seafood
We have a dinner at Rain City Grill in the West End district, which was one of the first restaurants to embrace local cuisine with flair. All seafood options on the menu are recommended by an 'Ocean Wise' logo which signifies a conservation program to ensure that fishing is sustainable. They have the 100-mile menu that is basically based on the philosophy that all protein and produce should be procured within a hundred miles of where you live. What this does is prevent loss of nutrients as well as emission of greenhouse gases for its transport from farflung places.
A bit of history...
Gastown was where the city of Vancouver started. It was named after John Gassy Jack - a talkative saloon owner who promised a barrel of booze to workers if they built his saloon in a day. For many years, it was a gritty, no-go 'skid row' or poor locality. In 2009, it was declared a national historic district and today, Gastown is also the new culinary epicentre. A slow process of gentrification has happened and though we still see the homeless and destitute crowds, there are snazzy restaurants, bars and art galleries that give the area a certain buzz. Antique gaslights, cobbled streets and Victorian architecture make Gastown atmospheric.
We start our evening at a small tapas-style bar called Judas Goat located on a street called Blood Alley, which was the meatpacking district of yore. The owner explains that it takes its name from the trained goat used in a slaughterhouse that leads sheep and cattle to their end, while its own life is spared. The bar is crowded and noisy, filled with hip couples and we feast on tapas like marinated beets with ricotta and rosemary honey, and roasted Polenta. We move to the Salt-tasting Room, a no-frills brick walled restaurant with communal tables and a blackboard with the day's combination menus of wine, artisanal cheeses and cured meats. The concept is quirky: you can order a flight of three different wines to mix and match with meat, cheese, bread or fruit.
Although the unlikely combinations first surprise me, I'm wowed later by the taste of peach with fig and date bread, cheese and white wine. The last stop of the evening is the popular Irish Heather gastro pub where attractive Sean Heather is there to guide us through the subtleties of whisky tasting. The pub serves creative combinations of beer, whisky, wine and locally cured meats. A tad blurry after an evening spent imbibing, my last thought is that 'Gassy Jack' will be pretty pleased with me.