Ah, Canada. Where everyone is so civilized. One of my favorite cities in Canada has got to be Vancouver. It’s like the North America version of Hong Kong with water, mountains and skyscrapers. There is so much to do in Vancouver from checking out the food truck movement to exploring all of the public art on display to incorporating some physical movement into your visit with a jaunt or a saunter around Stanley Park — a massive park located in the middle of the city with water on all sides.
There’s so much to do in Vancouver, BC but first let’s talk about where to stay. There are four different versions of fantastic Fairmont Hotels in Vancouver; Fairmont Vancouver Airport (luxury at the airport), Fairmont Waterfront (with the honeybee apiary), Fairmont Hotel Vancouver (the historic one) and the latest and most exciting, Fairmont Pacific Rim. We recently checked out the Fairmont Pacific Rim and we found it to be cosmopolitan and modern with a kind and talented staff who make you feel right at home.
The architecture of the Pacific Rim is quite stunning. Done by well-known Vancouver architect James K. Cheng, the structure is a mass of glass and metal. Stretching to 44 floors with diagonal cut outs at the top, the building offers incredible views of the North Shore Mountains, Stanley Park and Coal Harbour. Set along Coal Harbour, adjacent to where the cruise ships dock and looking out over the roof top garden of the convention center sits the Fairmont Pacific Rim. The rooms offer beautiful views, Japanese soaking tubs, gorgeous Stearns & Foster beds and bedside touch-screen controls for lighting, temperature, curtains and entertainment.
The Fairmont Pacific Rim is blessed to have an incredible chef running their food and wine program. Chef Darren Brown was born and raised in B.C. and has established solid relationships with farmers, fishmongers and purveyors of fine cuisine. The Fairmont Pacific Rim is his playground and he’s making the most of it with several dining outlets. He’s even perfecting the craft of large wedding or convention dining using the latest technology to eliminate dry chicken.
Darren is just fabulous and has experience cooking for some of the most distinguished palates in the world. He was the chef for Merv Griffin’s 150-yacht. They would summer on the Mediterranean and winter in the Caribbean, hosting celebrities and dignitaries. He traveled the world and prepared meals from ingredients gathered from the local markets. “I learned that the food needs to speak for itself,” says Darren. “Guests would be paying up to one million dollars for a week’s stay. I would have two hours on shore to purchase whatever I could cook. This forced me to play with the food and cook with what was appropriate and available.”
After spending a few years at sea, Darren became the Executive Chef at our own Trader Vic’s inside of the Beverly Hills Hilton. Then in 2002, Darren headed to Vegas to open Rumjungle at Mandalay Bay. While overseeing operations at Mandalay Bay he was responsible for China Grill, Blue Blanc Rouge Bistro and Red Square. Darren caught the eye of legendary Michelin chef, Alain Ducasse. From Ducasse, he learned about sourcing and “being true to the product, knowing where it comes from, doing the right thing and the least with it,” says Darren.
In 2004 he opened the exclusive Mix Restaurant, and in 2005 he was appointed Assistant Executive Chef of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, which required him to oversee the culinary operations of 1.8 million square feet of event space, in-room dining for 5,500 guest rooms and more than 20 restaurants.
Upon hearing about the impending birth of his son, Darren decided to raise his family back in Vancouver. He headed home. Darren brings his global culinary experience to Fairmont Pacific Rim in the form of several interesting restaurant and a booming event business.
At the base of the hotel is Giovane, an Italian eatery offering morning coffee and pastries to wine tastings and pasta in the evenings. Adjacent to the restaurant is a fabulous market stocked with the best ingredients out of Vancouver and Italy, such as a beautiful Salsa di Pomodoro from Viragi. They have an extensive charcuterie program at the hotel, which is available for purchase at the market.
On the second floor is upscale, Japanese style restaurant, ORU. The ORU team has developed a culinary journey with a new menu, offering an abundance of flavors ranging from British Columbia’s coast, to the French Polynesian Islands, and all the way down the southern regions of Chile. The setting at ORU can feel intimate or party central, as huge tables are available to be set up in front of their grand open kitchen. Seafood is the main draw offering the latest and greatest out of the nearby waters. Huge platters of sushi and creative shrimp broth soups prepared tableside in beakers and flasks add to interesting dining experience.
At the lobby level of the hotel, you’ll find the people-watching epicenter of the Fairmont Pacific Rim. From happy hour until 2AM, you’ll be amused and entertained by all of the interesting characters there enjoying delicious cocktails prepared by award-winning bartender, Grant Sceney. It’s fun to people watch Vancouver’s flashy crowd with distinguished men in classy suits and fortune seeking women putting it all out there.
Trendy Restaurants Galore
Vancouver is like a Canadian version of Portland, Oregon when it comes to their food scene. With better access to seafood direct from the Harbour and Pacific Ocean, Vancouver restaurants are also embracing urban gardens located within the city blocks to feed their guests the latest seasonal fare. Restaurateurs in Vancouver are using DIY tactics to build tables, chairs, and lighting to offer an eclectic, made-with-love feel to the décor.
Wildebeest is run with hipster flair. Cool characters describe their meaty specials. A vegetarian could get by at Wildebeest but you’ll enjoy more if you can eat meat for the night. Typical vegetable pairings include seasonal offerings of hearty root vegetables that are marinated and cooked to work with rich meats or seafoods.
Another notable restaurant new to Vancouver is PiDGiN, which is operating in a part of town that is best not walked alone. Once you pass through the doors you are safe and ready for your dining adventure. PiDGiN offers a variety of Asian inspired dishes that are perfect for sharing. Exotic flavors abound and check your inhibitions at the door. Also available are interesting cocktails and an expansive sake list.
Vancouver has a light rail system that is easy and cost effective. It will take you from Vancouver International Airport and drop you in the center of town where most hotels are within a walkable or a $5 cab ride away. Stanley Park is your playground and backyard. It is THE place to enjoy a bike ride or a morning jog. It’s beautiful and green and surrounded on three sides with water, think of a miniature, unpopulated land mass like San Francisco. Trails abound. The main downtown area is just southeast of Stanley Park. This area includes the seaplane airport with flights to Victoria, the convention center, cruise ship docking, and two Fairmont hotels including the Pacific Rim.
One of the best ways to take in the beauty of Vancouver BC is to explore the area in a seaplane. Soar above the water and try to spot whales and huge shipping boats. One a clear day the islands between Vancouver and Victoria are a mass of green and blue. It’s an exhilarating ride capsulated by a dramatic landing right into Coal Harbour.
There is a lot of public art in and throughout Vancouver and you’ll find yourself staring and smiling whimsically at a sculpture of a happy Asian man.