A Summer Weekend in Vancouver
Last weekend we had a lovely stay in Vancouver, British Columbia!
On our drive up to Vancouver on Friday we stopped for lunch at Lychee Buffet in Bellingham. a [Update: I am sorry to report that Lychee Buffet has closed. a a] a I am normally leery of Chinese buffets, but this one is actually very good. We have never been disappointed. They offer an extremely wide variety of dishes and everything seems so fresh. On weekdays, it’s a very reasonable $7.49. On weekends, when they offer an even wider variety of seafood, it costs $11.79. You can order from a menu, but we’ve never done that. It’s located at Exit#253 off I-5. (Driving North, take exit #253 and turn right; driving south, take exit #253 and turn left.) It’s a great stop for a quick meal when you’re travelling through Bellingham.
Lunch at Lychee Buffet in Bellingham
When we got to Vancouver, we drove directly to Gastown to meet our friend, Lorne, at his office. It was a beautiful afternoon to sit in the outside seating area of Chill Winston in Lorne’s building. We enjoyed catching up with him and had good Northwest beer and wine.
Bob and Lorne at Chill Winston
Since we had made a rather last-minute decision to go to Vancouver, I felt very lucky to get a room at our favorite Vancouver hotel, The Sylvia. They must have had a cancellation because the hotel is usually booked well in advance for summer weekends.
The Sylvia Hotel was originally built as an apartment building in 1912. In 1936 it was converted into an apartment hotel. The hotel claims to have opened Vancouver’s first cocktail lounge in 1954. Renovations have been done over the years and today it is a very comfortable hotel that maintains its historic charm.
The rooms vary a lot in size. There are very small rooms, rooms much larger than ours, and suites. A few of the larger rooms even have kitchen facilities. This time our room was a standard room with one queen bed. It was quite adequate.
Our Standard Queen room at The Sylvia
View from our room of English Bay
One of the best things about The Sylvia is its location. It is right across the street from English Bay and First Beach. You can walk on the walkway or bike on the bike trail along the shore to Stanley Park. When the weather is beautiful, as it was last weekend, it seems that all of Vancouver is out and enjoying the beauty of English Bay.
After checking in, we went across the street to the park and the beach. Right now there is an interesting sculpture there called A-Maze-ing Laughter that is a part of the Vancouver Biennale.
A-Maze-ing Laughter, by Yue Minjun
The Sylvia is the short building that looks like it’s covered with ivy. It’s actually covered with Virgina Creeper.
First Beach, English Bay
Right around the corner from The Sylvia is Denman Street where you’ll find all kinds of interesting restaurants. Many of them look like they’re inexpensive ethnic restaurants. We didn’t try any of them on this trip, but in the past we have eaten at Raincity Grill, which is not an inexpensive ethnic restaurant. It’s just down the block from The Sylvia and is an excellent upscale restaurant featuring local Northwest food.
Back at the Sylvia, we went into their bar for a drink before dinner. The bar is a very pleasant space with big windows looking out over English Bay. It’s a great place to sit and watch all of the activity going by. I had a Caesar cocktail, which is a very popular drink in Canada. It’s like a Bloody Mary, but it’s made with Clamato juice instead of plain tomato juice. The Sylvia’s version is made with Clamato, horseradish infused citron vodka, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. The rim of the glass is dipped in celery salt, and the drink is garnished with a celery stalk, a prawn, and an olive.
A Caesar Cocktail at The Sylvia
We then took a cab to Vij’s for dinner. Vij’s is owned by Vikram Vij, who is a classically trained chef and sommelier, and his wife, Meeru Dhalwala. The food has been called the finest Indian food in all of North America. That may be true, and it’s definitely one of my favorite restaurants.
Vij’s does not take reservations and you almost always have to wait for a table. We’d never been there during high season before; we learned that the wait is even longer on a beautiful Friday night in July. We were told it would be 1½ – 2 hours. I like Vij’s so much that I don’t mind waiting for a table; Bob was not so happy about it, but he humored me. We gave them my cell phone number and went out for a walk. I assured Bob that it would not be 1½ hours; I think they overestimate the wait time so customers will be pleased when it’s shorter.
After walking around the neighborhood for a while, we went back to Vij’s and ordered a drink. I must say that Vikram Vij is a very good host to his guests who are waiting for tables. He walks around greeting people, and he has servers who come around with trays offering tasty complementary nibbles. At one point I also saw Vikram walking around with a tray of goodies to offer people. It’s like being at a cocktail party.
An hour and fifteen minutes after we first arrived, our table was ready. We ordered Spicy Sautéed Mangoes and Greens with Khoa (an Indian cheese) and Dates Stuffed with Walnuts and Khoa for an appetizer. It was quite unusual and very flavorful.
For one of our main courses (dishes are meant to be shared at the table) I have always ordered the Lamb Popsicles, which is fantastic. There is a recipe for it in my Vij’s cookbook so I may try to make it at home sometime. If you ever go to Vij’s for the first time, I highly recommend it. Last Friday, though, I wanted to try something new so I ordered the Goat Curry with Spiced Vegetables. I had never tried Goat before. I liked it so much that I may have to buy some and try fixing it myself. (I have my eye on Vikram’s Boneless Goat Curry in Vij’s at Home.) With the Goat Curry we enjoyed Vegetable Curry with Sesame Seed Rice Pilaf, an excellent vegetarian entrée.
I was happy to have the opportunity to eat at Vij’s again and grateful to Bob for being such a good sport about it.
Right next door to Vij’s is Vij’s Rangoli. It is a much more casual, and less expensive, restaurant which is also open for lunch. (Vij’s is not.) We have never eaten there, but we have gotten takeout meals and the food is very good.
The next morning we had a leisurely (very slow) breakfast at The Sylvia. The dining room is bright and cheerful with large windows looking out at English Bay. We have eaten breakfast and dinner there before and had not encountered slow service. For some reason, last Saturday it was slow. The food was good, though, once we got it.
The menu has a great breakfast selection and the prices are very reasonable. I had my usual egg, toast, and hash browns. Bob wanted something to fuel his climb up the Grouse Grind, so he chose oatmeal and bacon. (Is it just me, or is that an odd combination?)
After breakfast we met our friends, Lorne and Margaret (aka Muggs), at Grouse Mountain. We could not believe all of the people who had the same idea. We last went a few years ago in September at about 8:30 in the morning. There were not many people that time. But this was, once again, “high season” in July on a beautiful Saturday at 11:30.
Grouse Mountain is just a short drive from Vancouver and offers something for everyone. The view of the city is breath-taking. You should be forewarned that the Admission, which includes the round-trip tram ride and some of the shows and activities, is not inexpensive. It’s $40 for adults, $24 for teens, and $14 for children. For a family, that would be a bit expensive, but it is a very unique experience and is especially worthwhile on a beautiful, clear day.
Lorne, Muggs, and Bob began their climb up the Grouse Grind. It’s a treacherous climb straight up the mountain. If you choose to climb to the top, you get a discounted ride back down on the tram; it’s about $12, I think. Walking down is not an option.
I chose to take the 6-minute tram ride up to the top. Because of the crowds, it took about 30 minutes to wait in line to buy a ticket and to ride up.
I was amazed at the amount of snow at the top, which I believe is about 3700 feet where the tram stops. Of course, we did have record-breaking precipitation in the Northwest over the winter with lots of snow in the mountains.
Once at the top I headed for the 45-minute Lumberjack Show which I thoroughly enjoyed.
After the show I headed back to meet the intrepid hikers when they got to the top. They made it in a respectable amount of time – just over an hour. After Cokes and iced coffees, we walked a short way to see the Wildlife Refuge which is the home of two grizzly bears. Unfortunately, the bears were in their den and not entertaining visitors.
After the tram ride back down to the parking lot, we agreed on the time to meet Lorne and Muggs for dinner and we headed back down to Vancouver.
On the way, we stopped to see Cleveland Dam. The dam was completed in 1954 at the head of the Capilano River. The dam forms Capilano Lake which is the source of 40% of Vancouver’s drinking water. You can walk on the dam and see the water rushing down into the river. There is a park with picnic tables, and the view of the mountains is beautiful. It would be a great spot for a picnic lunch.
By the time we got back to the Sylvia, we were hungry, but we didn’t want to eat too much so late in the afternoon. We headed across the street to Mr. Tube Steak’s cart for hot dogs. They were just the right thing to enjoy at the beach.
In the evening we walked down Denman to Coal Harbor to meet Lorne and Muggs for dinner at Cardero’s. The setting is beautiful with a view of the harbor and marinas, and the food was delicious. They feature fresh local seafood, and reservations are a must at this popular restaurant. I loved the Grilled Scallops, and the Linguine Vongole that Lorne and Muggs had looked terrific. Bob chose the local Fraser Valley Grilled Pork Chop which he enjoyed.
The walk back to the Sylvia was very pleasant. We walked down Gilford Street which is a quiet residential street that runs parallel to Denman. At Haro and Gilford, we discovered The Buchan Hotel. It’s a “budget, no-frills hotel” (their own description) with a great location. It’s a short walk to English Bay, Stanley Park, lots of restaurants, shopping and attractions. For those on a tight budget, it looks like it might be a great option.
At the base of The Buchan is a wonderful looking Italian restaurant, Adesso Bistro. It’s open for brunch on weekends and dinner is served daily. Their outdoor patio looked like a lovely place to be on a warm summer night. I’m filing it away as a place to try some time.
Continuing down Gilford, and about 2 blocks from The Sylvia, we were startled to see a skunk! We kept a safe distance, although I thought Bob got a little too close to it. We stopped in the bar at The Sylvia and asked the server about it. She said they are common in Vancouver and acted as if we were a bit strange to ask the question. Well, we have quite a bit of wildlife in West Seattle, but I’ve never seen a skunk in our neighborhood. It was quite exciting for us!
View from our room Saturday night
Sunday morning we once again had breakfast at the Sylvia. Service was much faster than the day before! I decided to try the Jogger’s Special with scrambled eggs and they were cooked perfectly! I love scrambled eggs when they’re done right. Bob had the smoked salmon omelette. I highly recommend breakfast at Sylvia’s, even if you aren’t staying there. The dining room is so pleasant and the food is terrific. After breakfast you can go for a great walk along the beach.
We checked out of the hotel and drove along False Creek to see the sights and then stopped at Vij’s Rangoli to get some food to take home. They used to sell frozen entrees, but now they carry refrigerated pouches. We got some Chicken Curry, Chickpeas, and Black Chickpeas which are all fine to bring across the border. You cannot bring lamb entrees into the US. We enjoyed the Vij’s takeout for dinner when we got home!
It was so great to see Lorne and Muggs, as always! And I’m so glad we got to go to Vancouver last weekend when the weather was perfect. This has not been such a great summer so far. Right now, in Seattle, it’s 57 and seriously raining. It’s probably about the same in Vancouver this weekend. Summer in the Pacific Northwest!
July 16…View out our front door….57 degrees and raining
I love visiting Vancouver! I think it may be the most beautiful city in North America. Here are a few things we have enjoyed in Vancouver on past trips:
● The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia is home to an amazing collection of Northwest Coast Native American art, including spectacular totem poles. Bill Reid’s best-known sculpture, The Raven and the First Men, is showcased in the Bill Reid Rotunda.
● The Bill Reid Gallery 639 Hornby Street. Open Wednesday – Sunday
● The Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park is a wonderful aquarium. The Orca statue, Chief of the Undersea World, in front of the aquarium was designed by Bill Reid, and it is gorgeous!
(Yes, I do like Bill Reid’s art!)
● There are a lot of interesting shops in Gastown. I have enjoyed exploring them when Bob has been busy with business meetings.