Where to go to share fondue, hot pots, and Korean barbecue in Vancouver

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You’ve probably seen these couples: sitting across from each other at a restaurant and glued to their phones, they barely even notice their food or their date. Maybe this describes you (sigh). But according to Bill Awan, manager at the downtown location of Capstone Tea & Fondue (1429 Robson Street; 160–9020 Capstan Way, Richmond), interactive dining experiences—like eating fondue—can encourage romantic bonding. “I love seeing my girlfriend dip a strawberry into chocolate fondue. It looks like she’s 17 again, she’s so excited!” he says during a phone chat.

“With fondue, there’s such a romantic essence about it. Nothing screams comfort and romance like chocolate fondue,” Awan continues. At Capstone, couples can dunk an assortment of seasonal fruit, cookies, and pastry items into 56-percent semisweet melted Belgian dark chocolate. An especially popular option is the ice-cream truffles, which you can roll in toppings such as rainbow sprinkles after coating them in chocolate.

Capstone also offers a Swiss cheese fondue that comes with cubes of French bread, fresh fruit, veggies, pretzels, and puff-pastry swirls. Laughing with your date while navigating oozy cheese, you’ll rediscover the joys of real human interaction; falling (back) in love over cheese is the best.

Chocolate fondue can also be had at Mink Chocolates (863 West Hastings Street; Unit F-110 Morgan Crossing, 15775 Croydon Drive, Surrey). Fondue pots at Mink are filled with milk chocolate or dark chocolate and served with pound cake and pieces of fresh fruit such as banana, mandarin orange, pineapple, pear, and local apple.

Owner Marc Lieberman invites couples to roll up their sleeves and help each other scrape every last bit of chocolate from the fondue pot. “It pains me to see people leave chocolate behind. I look at it and say, ‘Really? Seriously?’ I see some people tilt the fondue pot back and drink from it. I like those kinds of people,” he says over the phone.

Couples who love cheese will be delighted with the queso fundido at La Mezcaleria (1622 Commercial Drive), a mix of Gruyère, mozzarella, and white, semi-hard Oaxacan cheese that’s melted under the broiler in a molcajete (the iconic three-legged, volcanic-rock bowl from Mexico) and served with corn tortillas for scooping. Co-owner Ignacio Arrieta says couples often playfully fight for the bits at the bottom of the bowl. “At the end, there’s a burnt-cheese skin which you can scrape off with a knife. If you squeeze a little bit of lime and add some green sauce [salsa verde] to it, it’s amazing,” he says during a phone interview.

More substantial food for love can be had if you cook a Korean barbecue meal together. Seoul House Royal (200–1215 West Broadway) is a serene space with private dining booths where you and your date can show off your barbecuing skills as you use tongs to flip your meat and seafood on the gas grill. Popular selections include thinly sliced and marinated beef (bulgogi), beef short ribs (kalbi), spicy lamb shoulder (yang kogi), scallops (kwan ja), and prawns (sae woo). Enjoy your hopefully not charred protein with the rice and banchan (side dishes), such as kimchi and glazed soy potatoes (gamja jorim), that are brought to the table. Servers are unfailingly polite and will come to your rescue if you and your date start to flounder with the barbecuing.

Grilling can also be done at Yakinikuya Japanese BBQ (793 Jervis Street), which offers a host of options, from beef tongue to asparagus wrapped in bacon to duck seasoned with herbs, garlic, ginger, black pepper, salt, and sesame oil. The intimate, modern room features dark-wood décor that makes it perfect for cozying up amid the tantalizing scent of grilled meat.

“Hot pot is a very social thing. You can sit for a while and chitchat,” explains Vicky Kwong, manager at Fire Pots Healthy Hot Pot, Tapas, and Bar (4455 Lougheed Highway, Burnaby). For couples, Kwong recommends many of their signature items, like the hot pot with a spicy Szechuan broth that you and your date use to cook accompanying raw ingredients like lamb, potato, enoki and cloud-ear mushrooms, and udon noodles. Another of her personal favourites features a satay broth, to which you add steak slices, enoki mushrooms, and noodles.

Work together to custom-design your own hot-pot meal at Fire Pots or Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot ( 101–1788 West Broadway; 200–4755 Kingsway, Burnaby; and 405–5300 No. 3 Road, Richmond). Choose your soup, such as shiitake stock; select proteins like beef tripe and pork belly; and then go crazy with other ingredients such as soft tofu, lamb wontons, taro vermicelli, and sliced lotus root. After your soup has simmered sufficiently, slurp up the results of your collective effort in romantic and culinary bliss.

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Burgoo is my favourite place for fondue in Vancouver!
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