Canada: Vancouver department stores offer some stylish food options


Quickening pulse rates. Hyperventilation. Intensity. Can you sense it in shopping malls as they set up for audiences with Santa and holiday music?

Well, here’s something to ease the annual running of the malls. In the past year Nordstrom, Simons and Holt Renfrew department stores opened some rather stylish restaurants where you can eat, drink and cling to sanity while you shop. (The food outlets follow store hours.)


Nordstrom opened just over a year ago in Pacific Centre Mall with three places to park yourself for food and drink. On the ground floor, at the airy Ebar at the entrance, you can grab a coffee, pastries, salads and sandwiches. And when my husband can’t take it any more, Habitant, on the second floor, can ply him with wine and cocktails and small bites as I carry on with my hunting and gathering.

On the third floor, Bistro Verde, a dark, spacious, masculine room, offers calm and a view to the Vancouver Art Gallery across the street. There’s a full menu with starters, sandwiches, lots of salads and entrées. Ingredients are sustainable, organic and local when available, the menu tells us.

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At Habitant and Bistro Verde, the menus are brutally honest with a caloric count for each dish. In some cases, it’s enough to shock you into not eating.

At dinner at Bistro Verde, the service was polished and cheerful, although that might be a hard act to pull off come mid-December with cranky, cash-drained shoppers.

I tried two of the seven salads ($12.95 to $20.95) intended for the calorie watchers. They had the same greens as a base. One, with cilantro lime and prawns was very good ($20.95) with just-right prawns and fluffed fresh greens; another — fig and berry with chicken ($16.50) — had sad blueberries, too-dry chicken and greens that had lost their perk.  A Thai curry mussels starter ($11.95) was fine, but it was the sake marinated ling cod with shrimp dumpling, shiitake mushrooms and spinach in a soy broth ($30.95) that really impressed. It was pretty much perfect.

A tempting white chocolate bread pudding came in at 1,570 calories but the server gave us enough time to come to our senses and say “No thank you” when he inquired about dessert. To be fair, the sorbet and gelato are listed at 165 to 375 calories and crème brûlée comes in at 640.  I was grateful to Nordstrom for the honesty.

Holts Cafe at Holt Renfrew opened in Septemberand as you might expect, it’s serene and sophisticated with marble tabletops, cushy chairs and cool jazz, an extension of Holt Renfrew’s designer lifestyle.

It’s also the costliest of department store dining. You can get elevated casual fare (like lobster and shrimp roll or Wagyu burger) for $18 to $23 or entrées ($22 to $32). Chef Nicolas Hipperson (of Raincity Grill and C restaurants before they were shuttered and Farm 2 Fork underground restaurant) does a fine job in the kitchen, but front of house staff appear inexperienced.

Our server forgot to place one of our mains and didn’t inform us the kitchen was closing soon after our orders were taken; the website said the restaurant closed at 7 that day but only the dishwasher was left by 6 p.m., she told us. We were minus a main dish and didn’t have a chance at dessert. The server apologized, comped one of the dishes and gave us coupons for desserts — a good comeback but I thought Holts Cafe might be best for lunch or a stress-relieving glass of wine.

The tuna tataki with yuzu ice and cucumber dashi ($18) was light, fresh and lovely; Parmesan and chive fries ($6) were cooked right (the server failed to let us know the same fries accompanied the coffee crusted skirt steak we’d ordered ($27). Our bad, too, as it’s written on the menu. The steak had the medium-rare jiggle and good flavour. Spicy soba noodles with red chili garlic dressing ($19), however, was under-seasoned and a starchy letdown.

Simons, which opened at Park Royal South in West Vancouver is known for great service but it seems to stop at the Eve Cafe threshold. It’s a modern, airy spot and perfect for a shopping break. At the back end, a glass wall showcases a stand of tall trees.

The servers are friendly enough; it’s just that they are missing memory chips. Every one of our dishes were delivered to the wrong table and in one instance, to two wrong tables before it hit the jackpot at ours. And this is with order numbers placed on tables — in other words, it’s a no-brainer.

Other tables were apparently experiencing the same thing, as servers brought us dishes we didn’t order. We’d ordered a couple of baked goods to go but they came plated to our table. And a chocolate profiterole from Chez Christophe was completely forgotten.

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Still, like at the store, you’ll find good value in the café. The salads are generously portioned. “This is a half portion?” my husband asked as he looked at his ample Greek salad ($6) with notes of fresh thyme. My full order of fennel arugula salad ($9) was light, with a generous sprinkling of pine nuts.

My French onion soup wasn’t ooey-gooey as I’d expected (light on onions and toast with melted cheese was served separately) but it was tasty and hearty. A chicken sandwich came in a lovely brioche bun with double-smoked bacon and smoked Gouda, but the chicken was dry and the sandwich didn’t have enough in the way of condiments to add moisture.

If you see humour in servers taking every dish to the wrong table, you’ll be happy enough to grab a quick bite or a glass of wine at Eve Cafe.

Source: Vancouver Sun


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