There’s more to Dine Out Vancouver 2012 than restaurant hopping

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If you’re under the impression that Dine Out Vancouver is just about restaurant hopping and set menus, think again. While the three-course, prix fixe menus at 225 participating restaurants across Metro Vancouver will still be the biggest draw for most diners attending the 10th annual festival (January 20 to February 5), organizer Tourism Vancouver hopes that an increased number of food-themed activities and events across the city means that there will be something for everyone.

“The events allow people who otherwise would not be interested in going to a restaurant [during Dine Out] to participate in something a bit more unique,” Lucas Pavan, Dine Out Vancouver’s festival coordinator, tells the Straight by phone. “We’re expanding on the play component and offering more of a festival feel.”

One new event to Dine Out 2012 is Street Food City (January 24 to 26, location to be determined), which is being organized by members of the newly formed Vancouver Street Food Cart Association and highlights the city’s growing street-food culture.

“It’s essentially going to be a collection of food carts that are all together so that diners can go to one location and find multiple food carts at the same spot rather than having to crisscross around the city,” Pavan says. “It’s basically offering a bit of a daytime, midweek, fun gathering activity for the public to experience food.”

Another new event is Salt & Pepper, which allows a handful of restaurants to create their own unique dining experience during the festival. For instance, The Charles Bar will host a meal revolving around classic childhood favourites on January 25 for $35 per person. Diners will have the option of choosing between two or three comfort food dishes for each course, such as lobster mac ‘n’ cheese or bison hard-shell tacos to start. Over at Abigail’s Party, a marriage of sausages and rosé wines will be the focus of the evening on January 29 for $30 per person.

“They’ll be sourcing a bunch of different sausages from meat purveyors across the city [including Oyama, Moccia, and Cioffi’s] and pairing them with a selection of [B.C.] rosé wines,” Pavan says.

While tickets to many Dine Out events were made available to the public starting December 15, diners looking to browse restaurant menus and make reservations will have to wait until January 9 (January 5 for American Express cardholders). Participating restaurants will offer three-course dinners set at $18, $28, or $38 (excluding alcohol and gratuity), and diners can expect to see a wide variety of cuisines represented once the restaurants are revealed.

“Vancouver, in general, has a huge array of cuisine styles just based on the multiculturalism of our citizenry, so there will definitely be a very good cross-reference of what is available in Vancouver,” Pavan says. “We will have restaurants in North and West Vancouver, through Metro Vancouver, way out into Steveston and Richmond, and as far out as White Rock as well.”

In the five years that Pavan has worked with Dine Out, he has seen the foodie event grow from a week-long restaurant promotion to a full-blown festival, complete with hotel packages, guided culinary tours, cooking classes, and daily activities. He says that Vancouver has one of the most well-developed dining festivals in North America, and is gaining attention from cities like Toronto and Chicago.

“We’re sort of at the forefront of cities offering more of a festival feel to their dining week,” Pavan says. “The tenth year is sort of a culmination of what we’ve been working on over the years. This year, we’re wrapping everything together.”

You can follow Michelle da Silva on Twitter at twitter.com/michdas.

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