Siena: braised lamb filled ravioli, Tim Pawsey photo

One of the hazards of writing “Best of” / “Year End” lists is that you’re guaranteed to miss one (or more)—even more likely if you’ve been waging a kleenex demolition derby against the lurgy sweeping through Vancouver these days.

That said, here’s a greatly expanded version of our best dining newcomers column that ran in the Courier, along with a couple of extra inclusions that should have been there all along.

It wasn’t my original intention to take shots at En Route magazine, but there’s no question that a lot of folks (including me) were surprised that not one Vancouver (or BC) new resto made it into their Top 10 this year. Although, no less than six from Toronto did. We’re not involved in the judging process, so we’ll leave it at that. But we’re pretty confident that at least one of our picks that follow would have / should have made the grade, given a more balanced appraisal.

There’s no question that, as in most aspects of life in Vancouver, the outrageously overheated real estate market plays a disproportionate role in how and where Vancouverites dine out.

Vancouver’s scene (propelled in part by ever ascendant downtown rents and a still soft economy) has shifted from the core to the east side and across the bridges. In some ways that’s a boon, encouraging young chefs to strike out on their own in more affordable, neighbourhood settings.

Here are 12 “Go To” new restos for 2012— that if you haven’t been to yet, you owe it to yourself.

Fable Kitchen

A farm to table mantra doggedly followed, Tim Pawsey photo

When Trevor Bird—fresh off the set from Top Chef Canada—swooped into the old Refuel premises to retool and open in a matter of weeks, we weren’t sure what to expect. But Fable Kitchen embodies so much of what’s happening in Vancouver right now, with a firm focus on farm to table that its name promises and delivers, all at an affordable price. Top tastes: ‘canned tuna’ and tender duck breast with cauliflower, scallion perogies.

 

Forage

Forage Gelderman pork terrine platter

Not far behind, in similar vein, we’re pretty sure that while Fable may have been missed by En Route, just opened ForageChris Whittaker’s smart new sustainable room in the Listel Hotel—will be more than rooting for a spot in the 2013 line-up. The Gelderman Farm pork roast pork belly with braised cabbage, pink lady apple and celeriac pomme purée was one of the best dishes tasted all year. (Hint: You can catch it for now on Thursday evenings…) Similar props to the pork terrine.

 

Sardine Can

Sardine Can chorizo con Jerez, Tim Pawsey photo

The move to smaller simpler kitchens was mirrored in the arrival of aptly named Gastown’s Sardine Can. Andrey Durbach’s traditional tapas salute is still packing them in for the likes of smoked sardines, the guisado de pulpo—a nicely balanced zesty chorizo, potato and octopus stew. the Albondigas (meatballs) and the chorizo con Jerez—cooked in sherry.

 

España

España: duck livers and chorizo on lentils, Tim Pawsey photo

Denman Street has been devastated by fast food outlets in recent years, which makes the arrival of España even more welcome. Ed Perrow (ex Le Brasserie) and Neil Taylor (ex Cibo) have combined their significant talents to put out some of the best tastes downtown right now. It seems the ex-pats agree, as the two have recently seen fit to add the accent (tilde) on the name, pointed out by not a few as previously missing.

 

Siena

Siena owner Mark Taylor, Tim Pawsey photo

Mark Taylor closed his long running (and gently formal) Cru in favour of  this more lusty, rustic, bare tabled and boisterous Iberian / Mediterranean entry. Go for the chorizo stuffed grilled squid, arancine, the brick roasted  chicken and whatever else looks good on the evolving chalk board. Mark knows his wines, too, which accounts for one of the more well chosen (Very focused) and wallet friendly lists in town.

 

Wildebeest

Carnivore’s heaven: Wildebeest owners James Iranzad (l) and Josh Pape, Tim Pawsey photo

Robust flavours, honesty of ingredients and eco-awareness increasingly trump sophisticated surroundings (white linen has all but vanished) and classic plates as Vancouverites vote with their feet to kitchens that increasingly embrace more local trends, as well as the ‘nose to tail’ movement in particular. Add to our list of highlights some terrific tastes at Wildebeest, where David Gunawan (ex West) delivers detail driven, carnivorous salutes that include a superb 48 hour braised short rib, with smoky salt and jus. (Plus, take time to check out the new wine cellar below).

 

Le Parisien

Le Parisien: Smoked chicken liver and foie gras parfait with pear compote, Tim Pawsey photo

John Blakeley’s newly minted and renamed Le Parisien more than does justice to the former Café de Paris, and echoes Bistro Pastis in a more relaxed, traditional setting. Go for the seductive smoked chicken liver and foie gras parfait with pear compote, and stay for  the crispy braised pig’s trotters.

 

Fat Dragon

A sad demise: Fat Dragon clams, Tim Pawsey photo

An oversight that we now rue, Robert Belcham’s bold Downtown East Side Bar-B-Q should have made our list but was lost in the shuffle, which may well have been the case for a lot of Vancouver diners, given that it’s (sadly) due to close on December 23rd. Go there, if you have time—for the pork belly alone.

 

Via Tevere

Via Tevere’s oven: as impressive as the pizza that comes out of it, Tim Pawsey iPhone pic

Vancouver is awash in a Neapolitan pizza craze, with varying degrees of adulation and success, some hipster-wise some not. It won’t take much to make us regulars at this Victoria Drive down home destination, which arrives here as unpretentious contender for best pizza and a whole lot more (we’ll be back there soon to research and photograph for a comprehensive review).

 

La Pentola 

La Pentola: minestrone and more, Tim Pawsey photo

We’ve made it into La Quercia’s outpost in the Opus Hotel only for lunch, so far. but we’ve tasted enough to get pretty excited about these guys heading downtown to cater to those of us not wishing to make the arduous trek all the ‘out west’ to Alma St.

 

Portland Craft

Portland Craft: a cozy setting and a friendly crowd, Tim Pawsey photo

…plus pints and pork belly!

We’re thrilled by what’s happening on Vancouver’s craft beer scene, with an unabashed celebration of all things liquid and local long overdue. All that makes the inclusion of Portland Craft here even more appropriate because (1) It’s a really fun, modern pub with decent bites; (2) It’s the only no-holds-barred salute around to Oregon, which fired up the craft brewing revolution a couple of decades ago in the first place; and (3) They don’t do TV.

 

Tap and Barrel 

Tap & Barrel: taking the keg wine market by storm, Tim Pawsey photo

On the liquid side of things, Daniel Frankel proved the cynics wrong by opening Tap & Barrel as the city’s first draught wine and beer house, collaborating with Vancouver Urban Winery, which threatens to revolutionize the way we drink wine by the glass—not just here in Vancouver but elsewhere. And we’ll have plenty more to say on these guys in the coming few weeks. And stay tuned for the next T&B opening in Coal Harbour in the first half of 2013.