A Little Luxury Overnight in Vancouver, BC

The famous Gastown steam clock, in action

The famous Gastown steam clock, in action

There’s luxury in having a cosmopolitan city like Vancouver so close to Seattle. And luxury to be had there even for a fast overnight trip—in contrast to the multi-day, Chinese food feeding frenzies I normally enjoy and recommend north of the border. Here’s a sample itinerary that will fill you with culture, outdoor adventure, superb dining (both Asian and European), and unique experiences with tea, coffee, and beer.

Preparing Kalita pour-overs at Timbertrain Coffee Roasters

Preparing Kalita pour-overs at Timbertrain Coffee Roasters

Leave Seattle about lunchtime and if you don’t experience a back-up at the border, you can be in Vancouver by mid-afternoon. Your goal is to get to Gastown, where you’ll get a caffeine boost at Timbertrain Coffee Roasters. No dark, bitter roasts here. Instead, partake in a Kalita pour-over, or if your mood (and the weather) strikes you, enjoy a tap-pulled cold brew. The parallel to beer is striking, as the nitro tap system gives your coffee—served in a chilled pilsner glass—a little layer of foam.

Pour-over and cold brew coffees at Timbertrain

Pour-over and cold brew coffees at Timbertrain

With newfound alertness and energy, walk to the Vancouver Lookout to take in a 360-degree view of the city and its surroundings. There are guided tours available if you want in-depth information. I appreciate the “self-deprecating” diagram that compares the Lookout to the world’s tallest towers, perhaps serving as a distraction to finding out the actual height of the tower, which is apparently disputed. Regardless, it’s a really good view, warranting a same-day return before closing to see the city under the stars.

Stroll the streets of Gastown to see the shops and galleries and to appreciate the architecture, then make your way to Chambar. I ate dinner there the next-to-last night in the old location. The new Chambar (I got a sneak peek) is adjacent to the previous space and is full of fantastic features, including an expanded kitchen and elegant bathrooms, plus a fabulous terrace for private dining. Meanwhile, the Belgian-influenced menu remains the same. There are actually more beer than food options, and your server will be happy to make pairing recommendations. The classic moules frites are hard to resist, but be sure to explore the rest of the menu—or order a tasting menu experience that gives you a variety of smaller portions and the chance for more sampling.

Chambar amuse bouche: sauteed tomato gazpacho with creme fraiche and sunflower seeds

Chambar amuse bouche: sauteed tomato gazpacho with creme fraiche and sunflower seeds

Chambar's foie de canard “villa lorraine” (smooth and rich): spiced foie gras terrine, port reduction, kriek granita, and truffled brioche French toast

Chambar’s foie de canard “villa lorraine” (smooth and rich): spiced foie gras terrine, port reduction, kriek granita, and truffled brioche French toast

Chambar's duo de thon: fried & ceviche albacore tuna, charred corn salsa, black aji, and coconut creme fraiche

Chambar’s duo de thon: fried & ceviche albacore tuna, charred corn salsa, black aji, and coconut creme fraiche

Chambar's moule frites congolaise: mussels, tomato coconut cream, smoked chili & lime, and cilantro

Chambar’s moule frites congolaise: mussels, tomato coconut cream, smoked chili & lime, and cilantro

Chambar's tajine d’aziz à l’agneau: braised lamb shank with honey, figs, cinnamon & cilantro, served with cous cous, zalouk, harissa, and raita (fabulous flavors)

Chambar’s tajine d’aziz à l’agneau: braised lamb shank with honey, figs, cinnamon & cilantro, served with cous cous, zalouk, harissa, and raita (fabulous flavors)

Gavroche amber ale to go with the tajine (even better was the Grimbergen dark ale paired with the foie)

Gavroche amber ale to go with the tajine (even better was the Grimbergen dark ale paired with the foie)

Chambar's Mama Rizk: bruleed orange blossom custard, crisp kataifi pastry, mint tea sorbet, fresh orange, honey gelee, and pistachio (gorgeous!)

Chambar’s Mama Rizk: bruleed orange blossom custard, crisp kataifi pastry, mint tea sorbet, fresh orange, honey gelee, and pistachio (gorgeous!)

Tintin, spotted in the Chambar bathroom

Tintin, spotted in the Chambar bathroom

After dinner and any additional sightseeing or sipping in Gastown, eventually make your way to your hotel: the Wall Centre Sheraton Vancouver. There are actually three buildings on this city block of property, though one is residential. A top floor room in the North Tower yields you another great view of the city and beyond. The beds are comfortable and the location is convenient, with a fitness room, 50-foot lap pool, and spa available if you have time for such amenities.

View of the hotel (photo courtesy of Wall Centre Sheraton Vancouver)

View of the hotel (photo courtesy of Wall Centre Sheraton Vancouver)

The hotel's Fountain Square (photo courtesy of Wall Centre Sheraton Vancouver)

The hotel’s Fountain Square (photo courtesy of Wall Centre Sheraton Vancouver)

North Tower corner room (photo courtesy of Wall Centre Sheraton Vancouver)

North Tower corner room (photo courtesy of Wall Centre Sheraton Vancouver)

The hotel puts you in close proximity to morning coffee in an amusing place: Musette Caffe. The name refers to the bag that bicyclists use to carry food—basically, a racer’s feed bag. You’ll see some on display, as Musette is a coffee house that especially caters to the biking crowd. A television broadcasts live or recorded biking events, and the space is like a little museum packed with biking paraphernalia belonging to the famous and not-so-famous from around the world. There’s also gear for sale. The coffee comes from 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters, and there’s a nice array of pastries to accompany it, along with sandwiches and a few other food items.

Americano misto and "To Die For Lemon Loaf" at Musette Caffe

Americano misto and “To Die For Lemon Loaf” at Musette Caffe

Biking scene inside Musette

Biking scene inside Musette

If you’ve brought your bike or are motivated to rent one down on Denman in the West End, buy an energy bar at Musette and make your way to Stanley Park for an exhilarating, scenic ride along the Seawall. If that’s not for you, Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tours provide an easy introduction to part of the park. The tour covers just the east side (the west is more wild), and the narration is full of interesting information about the park’s history, activities, flora and fauna, and more.

Getting ready for a Horse-Drawn Tour at Stanley Park

Getting ready for a Horse-Drawn Tour at Stanley Park

Soon it’s back to downtown for tea at Urban Tea Merchant. Relax in the tea salon and choose from one of the many signature afternoon tea services (available all day). The menus combine savory and sweet offerings, with the on-site chef inspired by the challenge to use and infuse tea into all the items. Perhaps your bigger challenge will be choosing the tea itself. There’s an extensive menu of teas from around the world (about 250 loose-leaf varieties, soon to expand to more) grouped by country and category like black, green, white & yellow, oolong, rooibos, and blends. Your server will allow you to sniff some cannisters of tea, though this might only complicate your decision-making. Whatever you choose will be exquisite, as the TWG teas are high quality. Take your time to enjoy your tea service, and before leaving, browse the store if you want to replicate the experience (at least the tea-drinking) at home.

Summer Westcoast Tea Service for two at Urban Tea Merchant includes miso-maple glazed sable fish, "Dignitary's Tea" smoked chicken in sesame cone, smoked salmon ribbon with wasabi creme & ponzu gel, "Tokyo-Singapore Tea" seared tuna tataki, tea macarons, chevron strawberries, and matcha financiers (caviar spoons additional)

Summer Westcoast Tea Service for two at Urban Tea Merchant includes miso-maple glazed sable fish, “Dignitary’s Tea” smoked chicken in sesame cone, smoked salmon ribbon with wasabi creme & ponzu gel, “Tokyo-Singapore Tea” seared tuna tataki, tea macarons, chevron strawberries, and matcha financiers (caviar spoons additional)

Urban Tea Merchant's Brunch Tea Service includes the smoked salmon and chicken cone plus "Indian Night" curry egg tea sandwich, mini poached egg benedict with baby shrimp, scrambled egg (with Northern Divine Caviar, creme fraiche, and chives), fresh baked scone with devon crème & tea-infused jelly, and a top plate of other sweets

Urban Tea Merchant’s Brunch Tea Service includes the smoked salmon and chicken cone plus “Indian Night” curry egg tea sandwich, mini poached egg benedict with baby shrimp, scrambled egg (with Northern Divine Caviar, creme fraiche, and chives), fresh baked scone with devon crème & tea-infused jelly, and a top plate of other sweets

Top plate of the Urban Tea Merchant Brunch Tea Service includes “Tokyo-Singapore Tea” lemon-mango tart, chocolate-dipped strawberry, “Pink Flamingo Tea” panna cotta, and “French Earl Grey Tea” petit four opera cake

Top plate of the Urban Tea Merchant Brunch Tea Service includes “Tokyo-Singapore Tea” lemon-mango tart, chocolate-dipped strawberry, “Pink Flamingo Tea” panna cotta, and “French Earl Grey Tea” petit four opera cake

White tea served from a $500 glass teapot at Urban Tea Merchant

White tea served from a $500 glass teapot at Urban Tea Merchant

Bonus sampling of Urban Tea Merchant's ice creams: chocolate earl grey and matcha

Bonus sampling of Urban Tea Merchant’s ice creams: chocolate earl grey and matcha

After tea, I highly recommend a visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery. I’m endlessly entranced by the thought-provoking exhibits that come to this gallery, and currently there’s an eclectic exhibit of works by Douglas Coupland entitled “everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything.” It examines issues like cultural identity, the impact of technology, and much more. (Sadly, the exhibit ends September 1.) Budget enough time at the gallery, as there’s more worth seeing, but while downtown you might want to take time for shopping, with much of the action just west on Robson.

"Pop heads" as part of the Douglas Coupland exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery

“Pop heads” as part of the Douglas Coupland exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery

More of the Douglas Coupland exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery

More of the Douglas Coupland exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery

You’ll want to be hungry for your final meal of the day: dinner on the way out of town at Tojo’s Restaurant. Hidekazu Tojo opened his namesake restaurant in Vancouver just over 25 years ago, relocating to his current location in 2007. You can order a la carte, but if you come just for sushi, I’d suggest that you’re missing out. Tojo’s kaiseki-style omakase meal will surprise even the most experienced diners with its creativity and quality course after course. Put yourself in the hands of Tojo, and be prepared for the freshest of products, ingenious use of flavor combinations, and interesting presentations. Throw attentive service into the mix (even at the sushi bar, where you’ll notice the calm and confidence of the entire kitchen), and you’ve got the ingredients for a memorable dining experience. The “lighter fare” will enable you to stay alert for the drive home, though you might just want to linger over your meal and Japanese beer (or sake), tempted to stay in Vancouver for another night. That would be a luxury indeed.

Counter seating is fun at Tojo's

Counter seating is fun at Tojo’s

Echigo Koshihikari beer at Tojo's pairs well with the food

Echigo Koshihikari beer at Tojo’s pairs well with the food

Sashimi starter with Tojo's signature sauce (citrusy miso with some jalapeno, soy sauce, and sesame seeds)

Sashimi starter with Tojo’s signature sauce (citrusy miso with some jalapeno, soy sauce, and sesame)

 

Tojo's tempura: squash blossom stuffed with white fish paste and chopped scallops, okra, and sweet tomato, plus soba noodles as pine needles (all delicate and delicious)

Tojo’s tempura: squash blossom stuffed with white fish paste and chopped scallops, okra, and sweet tomato, plus soba noodles as pine needles (all delicate and delicious)

 

Sable fish smoked with pine and cedar at Tojo's

Sable fish smoked with pine and cedar at Tojo’s

Sable fish unwrapped, with asparagus, gobo, matsutake, and mango (mango!)

Sable fish unwrapped, with asparagus, gobo, matsutake, and mango (mango!)

 

Dungeness crab salad with miso mustard dressing, along with zucchini, daikon, and cucumbers sunonomo-style (wakame and somen below)

Dungeness crab salad with miso mustard dressing, along with zucchini, daikon, and cucumbers sunonomo-style (wakame and somen below)

Perhaps my favorite dish of the night at Tojo's: sauteed scallop wrapped in shiso wrapped in fatty fluke fin (engawa) over shiitakes, circled by sauteed geoduck and soy sauce butter (amazing!)

Perhaps my favorite dish of the night at Tojo’s: sauteed scallop wrapped in shiso wrapped in fatty fluke fin (engawa) over shiitakes, circled by sauteed geoduck and soy sauce butter (amazing!)

Also a favorite: spot prawns, Dungeness crab, salmon, and scallop in an egg crepe roll, topped with herring roe

Also a favorite: spot prawns, Dungeness crab, salmon, and scallop in an egg crepe roll, topped with herring roe

Some sushi: two types of tuna toro, smoked salmon, and sardine

Some sushi: two types of tuna toro, smoked salmon, and sardine

 

Refreshing cucumber roll with ume (brilliant flavor!), kampyo, takuan, asparagus, and gobo

Refreshing cucumber roll with ume (brilliant flavor!), kampyo, takuan, asparagus, and gobo

Tojo's first dessert: persimmon mousse

Tojo’s first dessert: persimmon mousse

Tojo's second dessert: green tea creme brulee

Tojo’s second dessert: green tea creme brulee

Tojo in action

Tojo in action

Timbertrain Coffee Roasters on Urbanspoon

Chambar (re-opening new location very soon!) on Urbanspoon

Musette Caffe on Urbanspoon

The Urban Tea Merchant on Urbanspoon

Tojo's on Urbanspoon

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