The nearer a food’s origins, the fresher it’s likely to be when served. The Beaver & Mullet takes that basic culinary truth to heart by only serving meats, vegetables, and dairy foods that are produced locally. But it’s not merely in food that this eatery intertwines itself with the business of area merchants; the bar procures microbrews, wines, and spirits from local producers, such as the Squamish-produced Howe Sound Rail Ale nut brown. These locally acquired staples join fresh-baked bread and organic produce. The kitchen features skilled chefs but no deep fryers; lunches, dinners, and brunches are baked instead of batter sizzled. They prepare a chicken ranch wrap with a garlic-pesto tortilla wrapped around spicy Cajun chicken with bacon and swiss, as well as a spinach-and-goat-cheese quiche.
The Beaver & Mullet combines those local brews with health-conscious bistro fare in a quirky dichotomy of an atmosphere that's part sports bar, part art studio. Groups gather to watch games on one of the flat-screen TVs that used to be '90s-style, boxy big screens until they encountered a steamroller. During Canucks and Oilers games, fans even get discounted all-you-can-eat wings. But next to those TVs, red and khaki walls and chalkboard menus surround guests, along with a dark hardwood floor from which massive windows extend to the exposed-duct-and-beam ceiling. Those fixtures unite with colourful canvas paintings to evoke the ambience of an urban art emporium. Guests can shirk the trappings of the interior altogether, though, and opt to sit on the outdoor patio.
In the dining room, the rhythmic pounding of a bodhrán hand drum mingles with the joyful melodies of a tin flute, flooding every inch of the space with an ebullience punctuated by onlookers’ clapping hands and tapping feet. The diners have left the feasts spread across their tables mostly untouched, their attention glued to the band in the midst of their lively song. Such moments aren't a rarity at Donegal's Irish House, but are an almost nightly occurrence at the jovial eatery that brings locals together to make new friends and share in internationally inspired meals.
Champions of fostering an atmosphere of community and friendship, the affable staff goes out of its way to make guests feel welcome, thanks to attentive service and an ever-changing calendar of events that keep inviting guests back. On select evenings, patrons can convene at Donegal's to watch a Canucks game or to see local bands. As guests chat and mingle in the dining room, the kitchen buzzes with chefs concocting Irish standards such as shepherd's pie and international cuisine that includes perogies and sausage, jambalaya, and butter chicken. Donegal's signature dish remains the whopping blarney stone burger, a 7.5-pound charbroiled Canadian beef patty that gets its eater a commemorative T-shirt and a place on the wall of fame if it's eaten within two hours with no help. Unsuccessful competitors, meanwhile, find their snapshot displayed on the wall of shame, under the most personal entry from their dream journals.
Nautical Nellies Restaurant, celebrating its 17th anniversary in 2014, is no stranger to recognition. The eatery, which overlooks the city's inner harbour, has garnered multiple Open Table Diners' Choice awards in categories including Best Food, Best Seafood, and Best Overall. Fillets of wild Pacific halibut or Vancouver Island ling cod flake beneath forks, and shellfish, lobster, and Dungeness crab claws teeter on multi-tiered seafood towers. Diners can sample 10 varieties of oysters and rolls of fusion sushi. Grass-fed Angus steaks, aged for 35 days, are cooked to any specification, from well done to what chefs term “blue”— seared on the outside, with a cool centre and a scrawled-on frowny face.
Thanks to the work of wine director Betty Furneaux, Nautical Nellies' beverage programs are just as thoughtfully designed as its dining menus. Wine Spectator honoured the eatery's wine list with an Award of Excellence in 2011 and 2013. Cocktails range from beachy mojitos to the savoury double-prawn caesar with vodka, Clamato juice, and two black tiger prawns. The restaurant also dedicates a section of the menu exclusively to scotch.
For nearly a quarter of a century, Oliver Twist Pub has provisioned patrons with to-go and bar-side libations alongside feasts of eclectic pub fare. Inside the welcoming two-storey pub or on the open-air patio, patrons sup on hearty burgers, steak, and seafood, or pastas and rice bowls inspired by cuisines from around the world, washing down meals with frosty brews on tap. As the Canucks complete blind passes and flawless toe loops and football and baseball players battle it out on the nine HDTVs, the air buzzes with the excitement of nighttime activities ranging from karaoke and DJ sets to poker tournaments and music bingo.
Oliver Twist’s attached liquor store equips on-the-go customers with a full range of lottery prizes, wines, liquors, and a walk-in chilled beer cave that mimics the Neanderthal frozen brew palaces of the Ice Age.
In Browns Socialhouse, backed leather stools and cushy booths flank tables. On the walls, oversize illuminated signs reading EAT and Liquor shine brightly against the cozily lit dining room. Mixing social-house comfort with a contemporary edge, the decor at Browns Socialhouse mimics the style of its food. Chefs hand cut and double-cook fries to pile alongside their steak sandwich or housemade, hand-pressed burgers. They've got an eye for detail—for example, they char-grill their dry-aged pepperoni before piling it atop pizzas with pepperoncinis and asiago. The selection ranges from international favorites—such as street tacos and shrimp-and-chicken pad thai, among other—to updated pub eats, such as fish ‘n’ chips featuring pacific halibut dunked in a Sapporo beer batter. Every Saturday, Sunday, and on holidays, the chefs set their roosters to crow earlier so they can rise and mix up batches of their own hollandaise for brunches. They crack only free-range eggs for their brunch dishes, which include corned-beef hash and prosciutto eggs benedict with goat cheese.
Even though the menu is influenced by eateries in the Old World, almost every other element of Tapenade Bistro is supremely local. Chef Colin Uyeda, who grew up in Steveston, got his first job in a kitchen at age 15 according to the Richmond Review. The reporter sampled locally caught seafood, going so far as to name the local fisherman behind octopus that's "succulently braised and served with in-house merguez sausage, harissa paste, a combination of pickled and fresh vegetables, and a citrus emulsion."
That's not the end of the regional influences though; there are Salt Spring Island mussels, cuts of Fraser Valley pork, and more, all of it made in compliance with Ocean Wise's guidelines for sustainability. Small producers from the region are well represented on the wine list, as well, and a special dinner series walks patrons through those offerings.