Eat Local: Chau Veggie Express

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I love telling you about what my neighbourhood has to offer, but it’s not good to stick to your favourite haunts all the time. There are too many neighbourhoods across the city and region to explore, with their own characteristic offerings. Part of being a savvy urbanite is not just knowing where to find what you need close to home, but also knowing when what you’re looking for is elsewhere.

I’m good at travelling the east/west axes of the city, but I need to spend more time looking north and south. North Van is just a short trip away by transit and the next neighbourhood to the south of us, Kensington-Cedar Cottage, is full of restaurants, delis, and fresh markets.

Victoria Drive is one of the anchor streets in the area and it’s known for having good food from a number of cuisines along its length, attracting foodies from across the city. We found ourselves near 33rd and Victoria a few days ago, so we decided to check out a restaurant that’s been on our list for a long time.

Chau Veggie Express has become famous amongst vegans in Vancouver for serving a fresh, delicious take on Vietnamese classics. Their menu is vegetarian and vegan, but there is nothing on the menu that feels like it’s a substitute for dishes that normally contain meat. Instead, their bowls, soups, and salads seem like welcome extensions of Vietnamese flavours, complete in themselves.

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This is because they’ve worked so hard to develop broths and sauces that balance flavours in the same way as traditional ones, while making the most of their vegetarian ingredients. The food arrives at your table as quickly as it would at a casual food stand, but the layering of flavours and the attention to presentation bring a fine dining sensibility to their dishes. The room splits the difference, with welcoming communal wooden tables and light, charming decor.

I had the Rickety Rickshaw Bowl, which was deeply filling and flavourful – with shredded bean curd and tofu, yams, and spring rolls, even a meat-eater couldn’t have complained that the dish was too light. At the same time, the fresh vegetables and salad and the lemon vegan fish sauce kept the dish from feeling heavy. It’s the kind of meal that leaves you invigorated.

My partner tried the Tropical Rainstorm Bowl and may not ever try another dish. The toasted coconut sauce is everything he’s been looking for since he became vegan. He also appreciated the heartiness of the thicker noodles in this bowl. The best part is that much of the menu is gluten-free, or can be easily adapted. He didn’t think he’d get to have good spring rolls again, but he tried one from my dish and he was grinning. He may order a separate plate of them next time and we’ll be buying some lemon vegan fish sauce to take home. We’ve been looking for a good vegan, gluten-free version and this is it.

The fish sauce isn’t the only thing you can take home, either. Many of their inventive broths and sauces are for sale, along with pints of their famous vegan ice creams.

Come early, as there’s often a line. You can get great meals all day, but you can also stop in for coffee and treats, or bring a crowd for drinks and snacks.

If you’re lucky enough to come at a time that’s not busy, the staff is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their menu – we enjoyed hearing about their dishes, their philosophy, and their practices almost as much as our meal.

Chau Veggie Express is going to become a regular stop for us, but I’m also planning to explore more of the neighbourhood. I want to know what else we’ve been missing.

Click to add a blog post for CHAU VeggiExpress on Zomato

Eat Local: Kin Kao

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Every neighbourhood has spaces that are just crying out for the right restaurant. Places that have had a history of good tries or also rans. When you live close to one of these rooms, it becomes a local topic of discussion, as everyone shares their ideas for what they hope the next venture will bring.

Which meant that when the paper went up over the windows of a failed sandwich shop near Venables and Commercial, there was a lot of speculation. And when signs followed, announcing a Thai restaurant would occupy the space, locals started to get excited. As the restaurant started to take shape, the care taken with the physical design suggested equally considered food and the neighbourhood started to get impatient.

In February, Kin Kao opened and justified that impatience. They experimented with their menu for the first few weeks. We were a bit apprehensive to go during this period, as my partner has celiac disease and is also vegan, which can be hard to work around. But, they were able to modify some dishes for him beautifully and now there are permanent selections on their menu that are great for vegans and gluten-free folks.

We’ve been back more times than I care to admit, for lunch, dinner, and takeout and we’ve tried a number of dishes across their menus. Omnivore that I am, the red curry with duck is my favourite, but I’ve been happy with every dish I’ve tried. For Kevin, the green curry with tofu has become his go to dish, with the vegetarian Phat Thai running a close second. They’ve also got a very well chosen drinks list, with the beers from local brewers 33 Acres and Strange Fellows making particularly good accompaniments to their meals.

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I have to warn you, though, Kin Kao is not a Drive North secret – people from all around the city are lining up nightly to enjoy the space. It’s worth the wait, but if you live close by, don’t overlook their take out menu. Their food is just as enjoyable at home. And lunch is a particular pleasure, starting out with soup and moving on to satisfying one plate meals. It’s also not quite as hectic, so it makes a good start to a day on the Drive.

Kin Kao is just the right addition to the north side of the Drive. I think it will boost the business for the lesser known gems around Kin Kao, while acting as an anchor to attract more interesting businesses. It’s also another feather in the cap of our neighbourhood, which is attracting excellent iterations of specific cuisines, like the perfect Neopolitan fare at Via Tevere.

On a more selfish note, we’ve wanted a restaurant of this calibre on this side of the Drive for some time now. And it does Thai food better than most places in the city. They’re going to keep seeing a lot of us.

Kin Kao on Urbanspoon

Eat Local: Kingfisher’s Waterfront Bar & Grill

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Meet Chef Sean McCarthy. He’s the Executive Chef at Kingfisher’s Waterfront Bar & Grill. He also happens to be my little brother. In the photo above, Sean’s showing off some of the sunchokes the restaurant receives in their farm box of produce each week. He’d heard about the difficulties the Doristas had in sourcing this vegetable and wanted me at least to know that I should have talked to him before running around all over town looking for them. Lesson learned. Having trouble sourcing an ingredient? Ask a chef. They know where to find everything you might need.

Sean brought the sunchokes out to show me a couple of weeks ago when my mother and I stopped by Kingfisher’s for lunch after visiting the West Coast Christmas Show in Abbotsford. I don’t get the opportunity to visit the Fraser Valley often enough, so I wanted to make the most of my trip.

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You’re used to me extolling the virtues of farmers and local, seasonal food, so you shouldn’t be surprised that my brother shares those values, along with the owners of Kingfisher’s. They take every opportunity to showcase the local goodness around them, like the Gelderman Farms pork loin chop I chose for lunch, which Sean paired with roasted carrots and fig jus. I also got to try a draught from my own neighbourhood with my meal. One of Kingfisher’s rotating tap selections was Bomber Brewing’s Choqlette Porter, a variety I have a hard time passing up.

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Kingfisher’s menu is quite varied, so my mother was able to choose a favourite from farther afield, the lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, then we finished with pumpkin crème brûlée. In general, though, you’ll find the menu dotted with the provenance of the products they’re using, both in the restaurant and behind the bar. It’s the kind of establishment that’s taking hold across our region, building community with its customers and suppliers and introducing eaters to producers.

Now, this can’t strictly be a restaurant review, since I’m the chef’s sister. But what I’d like to mention is that it’s Buy Local Week and that’s a perfect opportunity for you to seek out just this kind of restaurant in your own neck of the woods. You’ll be supporting a local business that supports local businesses in turn and you might just discover your new favourite butcher, farmer, or brewer along the way.