Dine Out Vancouver Festival (Jan 18-Feb 3) kicks into high gear this weekend. You could spend a lot of time sifting through DoV’s three tiers of menu offerings, which on the surface appear to have grown yet again this year. For the most part they’re still a good deal, at least, the menu prices haven’t increased over last year.
It’s interesting to note that, when it started, Dine Out was instrumental in Vancouver restaurants reintroducing the prix fixe menu, which, except at a few more authentic French bistros, had essentially become extinct at the time.
While designed originally (based on other cities’ experiences) as a mid winter seat sale booster for restaurants, Dine Out also firmly reintroduced the consumer to the notion of getting value for their dining dollar. That—along with fatigue for tasting menus—is part of the reason year-round prix fixe menus are now in place at more savvy spots.
A few other things have changed since Dine Out first came along over a decade ago. First of all, most diners (and not a few restos) are feeling the pinch a whole lot more than we were. That means the Dine Out deals may not be so obvious to come by. In short, do your research. Check the restaurant’s regular prices to see if you really are getting the break you think you are.
DoV’s website sports a neighborhood sort feature, which is a good idea—even if, should you live in “Burnaby and beyond”, you’ll discover one out of three offerings is likely to involve The Keg ($38).
You can also quickly nail down who’s offering lunches, which is a great way to avoid the rush on busy evenings, if your schedule permits. Raincity Grill looks good, for a leisurely splurge ($28). There’s more vegetarian menus this year (I’d be inclined to head to Federico’s Supper Club, for both veg and non-veg options, $38) as well as gluten free Baru Latino, ($28).
However, the major change that’s taking place is the shift from a set-menu, dining-deal extravaganza to a broader, region-wide celebration now known as Dine Out Vancouver Festival which cross links to performing and visual arts. Taking a page out of some other cities’ books, organiser Tourism Vancouver is building a food and wine (and other drinks) festival that appeals to visitors from further afield; and also speaks more directly to their hospitality mandate and hotel base.
All of which adds up to a pretty good assortment of special events well worth a look.
Where to go?
Below are some of our menu picks. But in the meantime, if you’re interested, best get on to the events now. They’re selling fast, so move quickly if you want tix.
A few highlights…
And there’s plenty more…
Belly’s Best menus
We consider value (food, ambiance, service), based on what we’ve found at the restaurant before and on their Dine Out menu; we also look at the calibre of cuisine, and creativity behind the menu—and that includes the wine suggestions and how well they’re paired.
We don’t have time to check everyone’s wine program but our advice is to pay attention to the quality of the wine and the price per glass. Some restaurants are pouring ‘flights’, that is: three small (usually two ounce) pours for, say, around $10. It’s a smart idea, as it allows you to enjoy a small taste of wine with each course—and not drink too much. As far as BYO. Check with the restaurant first.
Coming from out of town? Check Dine Out’s hotel packages. A good night’s sleep (and sometimes included breakfast) easily trumps an expensive cab ride …
And, P.S. Don’t forget to TIP.
Three courses for $18
If you’re seriously wallet watching, any one of these should fit the bill …
Bella Gelateria: Prize for the most unusual Dine Out offering goes to Bella Gelateria, which is offering a choice of four $18 (for two people) tasting menus, including their world beating Toasted Pecan with Salt gelato. If you’ve never been, now’s the time. Stay for some great coffee too.
Chutney Villa - Wine ranging South Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine in a relaxed setting.
Dunn’s Famous - Montreal smoked meat. Need we say more?
Fray on Fraser – We were hosted here this week and had a chance to sample a wide range of dishes, including Portobello fries, mildly addictive home made rosemary chips, a maple bacon jam burger, and candied pulled pork sandwich. One of the best DoV deals going. A fun and highly affordable neighborhood diner style spot with generous portions, good tastes and fair prices. You won’t leave hungry, that’s for sure.
Irish Heather – Authentic, well prepared, no nonsense plates in a welcoming atmosphere. Extra points for properly poured Guinness.
Kerkis Greek Taverna - West side Greek that often gets lost in the shuffle. Good value menu.
Bistro 101 – Perennial performer, even outside of DoV. Unbelievable value.
Rocky Mountain Flatbread - Healthy options; excellent value and smart pairings.
Fish Shack – No nonsense, high energy Fish ‘n Chips.
Donnelly Group: The Bimini; The New Oxford; The Calling; The Lamplighter; Good value pub fare with a twist.
Wild Rice, Downtown and New Westminster – East meets west small plates—with intelligent wine pairings.
Tomorrow: $28 & $38 menus.