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Dine Out Vancouver
When: Jan. 20 to Feb. 5
Tickets and info: dineoutvancouver.com
Dine Out Vancouver Festival is back for the 21st consecutive year, and we are ready to party after the drought.
From Jan. 20 to Feb. 5, a record 369 restaurants will offer good-value, three-course menus in three price ranges — $20 to $35, $35 to $50, and $50 to $65 — soothing prices in these sticker-shock times. The list of participating restaurants and their menus went live on Jan. 11 — and although it’s Dine Out “Vancouver”, and founded by Destination Vancouver, suburban restaurants are welcomed.
“If you look at dinner prices these days, even the $65 for three courses is a bargain, and the $20 entry price — that’s crazy,” says Lucas Pavan, Dine Out’s festival manager at Destination Vancouver. The ever-growing numbers of restaurants show, as an annual survey confirms, it’s great for business in the sluggish post-holiday period, and the public loves it.
“It’s also a way for restaurants to engage with the community and attract new customers,” he says. “It brings life to the city.”
The festival events grow, too. For example, how about sea foraging with a wildcraft guide, culminating in a bowl of foraged chowder by the sea that might include seaweed, fish, crab, sea urchins, clams, scallops, oysters or mussels?
Lee Cooper, chef and owner at L’Abattoir, has participated in Dine Out since his restaurant opened, but in recent years, he makes it an opportunity to challenge himself and his staff with special dinners. This year, he and the rockstar chef Alex Chen of Boulevard and Wild Blue team up for a ticketed haute dinner collab.
“Alex and I have talked for a long time about cooking together. He’s such a massive talent and I’ve so much admiration for how he cooks, it gets me excited,” Cooper says.
Regretfully, when I interviewed Cooper, 48 of 50 seats had already been sold out. Should you wish to fantasize, here’s a taste of the parade of dishes: Tart of pomme boulangère with oxtail, truffles; steak tartare with shiso, bluefin otoro, oysters. Terrine de volaille, quince, pear, brioche. Aged acquerello rice, uni, smoked sablefish. Sunchokes, grilled lobster, roasted chicken vinaigrette.
“We’re constantly dealing with curve balls, so the menu might have changes,” Cooper says. Such a dinner, he says, is a great motivator for his team. “For me, it’s the exciting part of cooking, the craftsmanship.”
Other food and drink events include the annual World Chef Exchange. One is at Published on Main, where chef Gus Stieffenhofer-Brandson teams up with L.A.-based Andy Doubrava and Tiffani Ortiz of Slow Burn, known for their roaming zero-waste pop ups. And AnnaLena restaurant’s Mike Robbins and San Francisco’s Ernest Restaurant chef, Brandon Rice, pair up on a six-course tasting menu. Those, too, have sold out. Alas, tickets events went on sale Dec. 1 — really excellent Christmas gifts.
Dine Out’s World Chef Exchange began in 2015, inspired by the Brighton and Hove Food Festival, which had staged a chefs’ collaboration in Vancouver. Since then, there have been some 35 collabs with chefs from the U.S., England, Denmark and Mexico.
“We don’t pay them. There are no appearance fees. Often when chefs are invited, they’ll want to fly first class or be paid. We politely decline their participation. We want them to want to be here. It’s about relationships, community building and sharing,” says Pavan.
Dine Out Vancouver itself was an idea food and wine veteran Kasey Wilson floated to Destination Vancouver (then called Tourism Vancouver) in 2001.
“Rick Antonson, who was CEO at the time, had always been ahead of the pack, got on board immediately and plans began for the 2002 launch,” Wilson says. “There was some resistance from Tourism Vancouver’s restaurant partners that first year, but with its success, many came on board, and it became Canada’s largest restaurant promotion,” she says.
Other events this year includes eating tours, cooking and eating classes, coffee, beer and distillery tours, a paella long table, a pop-up dinner at the Vancouver Aquarium, a dim sum tour, and the popular Street Food City, now in its 11th year, with a roster of 15 rotating food trucks at the Vancouver Art Gallery plaza.
Dine Out Vancouver, Pavan says, is the largest food and drink festival in Canada, besting Toronto’s Winterlicious, a similar event. “New York and Boston might have bigger events but they’re bigger cities.”
Visitors to Vancouver can receive a $75 prepaid Mastercard gift card for each night at participating downtown hotels and can be spent at the hotel or in any way the guest desires.
Sabrina Tey, communications manager at Destination Vancouver, has been a Dine Out fan forever.
“It’s a big thing in my family. I’ve always looked forward to it to check out new restaurants and spend time with family and friends. It’s always fun to see the unveil of the list (of participating restaurants). Getting reservations is always thrilling,” she says. “Now that there’s about 360 restaurants, a group of us will scour it.”
Her tip for scoring reservations at the popular restaurants?
“Mid-week is really the sweet spot,” she says, especially if you’re hoping for the 6 to 7:30 p.m. slots. And those of you no-shows who book multiple spots per evening? Don’t! Otherwise, all, not just some, restaurants will resort to taking deposits with reservations to thwart the likes of you.
During Tey’s five years working at Destination Vancouver, the most memorable were during the pandemic.
“We had to re-imagine it and keep supporting the restaurant community. We encouraged take-out and virtual events,” she says.
And in the summer of 2020, they created a Dine Outside event with set picnic menus to help the businesses.
I’ll have more on Dine Out next week.