by Ron Bernthal
The last time I visited Vancouver, 25 years ago, I spent my days walking the city’s wet and foggy streets, spent hours in Chinatown’s 1940′s-era Ovaltine Café, ate shrimp and crabs from the small public market stalls on Granville Island, and attended my first hockey game with a girl I met on the Sea Bus to North Vancouver. I was not sure who I loved more, the city or the girl. Snow capped mountains hovered above downtown buildings and the cold mist that blew in off the harbor smelled clean, a hint of brine in the air.
Although the tourism folks say that both the mountains and the sea define the city, I’ve always felt that the Pacific, and its bays and inlets and straits, is really Vancouver’s heart and soul. The city’s air is still washed clean by ocean rain, its large Asian community comes from western Pacific shores, and eating fresh seafood is a city pastime. The Blue Water Café did not exist at the time of my last visit, but in a coastal seaport town with dozens of excellent fish restaurants the 10 year-old Blue Water Café is one of the best.
Located in the historic Yaletown district, the restaurant occupies a great space in a 100 year-old former warehouse, the original brick walls and low wood-beamed ceiling contrasting nicely with a modern sushi bar and open kitchen. During my visit the restaurant was holding its 6th Annual Unsung Heroes Festival, with Chef Frank Pabst offering a tasting menu using only sustainable Pacific area fish, most of which are rarely seen on restaurant menus. Blue Water Café was an early member of Canada’s noted “Ocean Wise” program, originated by the Vancouver Aquarium, which promotes the use of sustainable wild and farmed fish species on restaurant menus throughout the country.
The six small portions I had included wonderful Kusshi oysters from British Columbia’s Cortes Island, served on ice from the raw bar; jellyfish marinated with sesame oil and togarashi; octopus ceviche with avocado, cilantro, lime, sweet peppers and jalapeno; taglierini with sea urchin sauce; sea cucumber stir-fry with fresh vegetables; and Humboldt squid braised in tomato red wine sauce with potatoes, black olives and parsley. Each portion was served with a glass of British Columbia red or white wine, or cold sake. The pear sorbet for desert was splendid.
On a Friday evening the restaurant was busy and pleasantly noisy, many diners were ordering the sustainable fish plates off the regular menu as well, including Arctic char, sablefish, and grilled white sturgeon. Sushi Chef Yoshihiro Tabo prepared beautiful seafood towers for the tables, and small raw fish and oyster plates for the ten-person sushi bar, while Chef Pabst was visible in the open kitchen working with fresh periwinkles, albacore tuna, mackerel, sardines and smoked herrings. The menu said that the chef’s philosophy is to “avoid species that are over-fished, or fished in ways that damage ocean beds or cause unnecessary by-catch,” and utilizing a menu that is 100 percent sustainable seafood products, he is able to create interesting and delicious dishes using fish species that are in plentiful supply.
The Blue Water Café + Raw Bar is within walking distance of many downtown Vancouver hotels and just a few blocks from False Creek, where fishing trawlers still come in every morning with buckets and baskets of fresh catch from the sea.
Blue Water Café + Raw Bar
1095 Hamilton Street
Vancouver, British Columbia
Canada V6B 5T4
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