Comfort radiates from a stone-pot concoction
April through October are the yogurt months: a daily morning bowl of the plain, unsweetened, organic kind, topped with cherries, apricots, nectarines, peaches, apples, or pears, depending on what’s ripe and local. The rest of the year, it’s Red River for breakfast, a hot cereal you may be unfamiliar with unless you habitually crawl down supermarket aisles at ground level. Nutty, chewy, sticks to your ribs, sticks in your teeth, keeps the internal drains running on time—it’s nothing but good, solid Canadian-grown wheat, rye, and flax for around 11 cents a serving. Can’t beat it. Then it’s out in the cold and up with the umbrella.
Seasonal eating is not only eco-fashionable, in the winter it feels right to bundle up your interior. Chef Rob Belcham at Fuel (1944 West 4th Avenue) has the correct idea with his Whole Beast dinners, which let the table order (with a week’s notice) an entire roast chicken stuffed with foie gras, whole roasted squab, rack of organic pork, saddle of venison, and other possibilities. Permanently on the menu, and each serving two, are whole confited Polderside duck ($75) with braised parsnips, arugula, and burnt orange; and cí´te de boeuf ($125) with watercress, pommes frites, and a béarnaise sauce. There’s also a roasted lobe of Quebec foie gras ($125) with preserved plums, thyme, and brioche, which feeds up to six as a starter.
Moving beyond modern West Coast fare, this Saturday (January 19; 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.) at Granville Island Public Market, you can lap up an hourlong lesson on international winter comfort food, with samples if you sit near the front. Chef Stephen Wong is cooking warming Chinese dishes, and Provence-als Jean-Francis and Alessandra Quaglia will make sunny, bright-flavoured antipasti.
My favourite remedy for Vancouver’s soul-chilling winter is a hefty blast of Seoul food, and the most fruitful hunting ground for Korean spots is the Stanley Park end of Robson Street. Nor Boo Korean Restaurant is a home away from home for Korean students, but its ambiance is the essence of Vancouver, with the Food Network and hockey on the big screen, and Asian pop on the sound system.
Soups, stone pots, hot pots, short ribs, and much more: it all sounds good, and looks it, too. Beside us, a foursome dug into a massive seafood hot pot, cooking up a still life of Dungeness crab, oysters, mussels, and vegetables and spooning it into bowl after tasty bowl. They were still at it when we left.
The pork said to be in the okonomiyaki-like pork and vegetable pancake eluded us, but streaked with red pepper and onion shreds, the pancake was tasty, screamingly hot, and blackened from the grill, and came with a thin soy-based sauce for dipping. I’ll return just for the sweet-spicy chicken wings, slightly sharp in flavour, the meat moist and tender in a crunchy brown, sesame-seeded carapace. Finger-sucking good. Seven come at a time, so order accordingly.
Food shows up as it’s cooked, with table gridlock created by the arrival of pickles, major players in any Korean household. Here you get classic scarlet-flecked cabbage kimchi, sweetish potato chunks, sesame-oil-dressed bean sprouts, and, curiously, a little bowl of mayo-tossed rotini. Servers are friendly, but not all speak fluent English. Ours was savvy enough to return with another server who did, and who identified the garnet-coloured sweetish chips in the stone pot of seafood and rice as pickled radish.
Slow to heat and to cool, stone pots are an ancient and efficient way of cooking food and keeping it hot. A gong-banging dish, raucous with orange tobiko, bottle-green nori shreds, and chopped green onion, the seafood and rice stone pot is instant comfort on a cold night. Delve in and you uncover fat shrimp, shredded faux crab, and what look like the tiniest scallops. Pine nuts, too. This is not some scary Italo-Korean fusion concept; pine nuts are a basic ingredient in the Korean kitchen. (This logically means you can get ’em cheap at Korean grocery stores. At H-Mart [590 Robson Street], they work out to just $1.69/100 grams.) No two mouthfuls the same, the stone-pot dish is a satisfying jumble of textures and tastes, culminating in the addictive crisp layer of rice that you scrape from the sides of the pot. Sure you don’t want the last bit? Good.
Beef short ribs, soups, a wander through the appies, lunch specials, a late-night menu of small dishes”¦ I can think of many reasons to go back, including price. This belly-filling meal for two totalled $26, all included.