Grazing Vancouver

For the curious of palate, a trip to this British Columbia restaurant row is de rigueur
Lawrence W. Cheek

The ol' boys down at Memphis's World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest thought it was a hoot that these two guys from Canada were nosing around the smoking pits, peppering everyone with questions about woods and rubs and sauces. So the cooks' guards were down and they pretty much spilled the beans. Which allowed George Siu and Park Heffelfinger to fly home to British Columbia and open a totally credible outpost of Southern barbecue, Memphis Blues Barbeque House, on Vancouver's West Broadway.

Well, maybe the wine pairing suggestions are over the top-Siu raves about German Riesling with barbecue. But you learn to expect surprises while grazing the Broadway neighborhood's conglomeration of ethnic dining, where the flavors of the kitchens span the globe-Afghan, Chinese, Filipino, French, Greek, Indian, Jamaican, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Mexican, Russian, Vietnamese ... and Tennesseean. In the cultural bouillabaisse of Vancouver, you may hear Mexican music in a Vietnamese cafe and learn that the owner of the wholly authentic Jamaican place bears Chinese ancestry. It may be confusing, but it's delicious.

Thanks to Canada's liberal immigration policy and Vancouver's strategic place in the Pacific Rim economy, the city has become a mecca of multicultural dining. Think San Francisco with parking. And menu prices shredded by the favorable exchange rate. Although Broadway boasts at least one famously expensive restaurant, Lumière (2551 W. Broadway; 604/739-8185), two can feast on lunch at most places for less than $20 U.S.

Nice 'n' Spicy Reggae Cafe offers one of Broadway's liveliest ethnic dining experiences, with Jamaican curries, spicy jerk chicken, and very spicy pork stew with a hint of cinnamon. Owner-chef Andrew Yap-Chung has no formal training; it's just the down-home Caribbean chow he learned to cook from his family. "There's real food, and then there's artificial food," he says. "I don't go in for fancy presentations, like parsley sprinkled on things."

 

At the opposite pole is Vij's, a sophisticated Indian restaurant with a contemporary slant. The kitchen creates novel concoctions with traditional Indian flavors-for example, marinated pork chops with mushrooms, zucchini, shallots, and roasted almonds. "I didn't want to do chicken tikka," says chef-owner Vikram Vij. "There's enough of that." Nor does his staff ask diners what level of spiciness they prefer. "If you come to my home for dinner, it is my responsibility to know what will please you," Vij explains. In practice, his dishes tend to be fairly hot, but flavors are so vivid and fresh that they dance through the flames unsinged.

There's enough internationality in the Broadway vicinity to keep an adventurous palate engaged for weeks. It's a buffet table of Vancouver's uniquely casual cosmopolitanism, as eclectic as Memphis Blues's barbecue nachos (with Riesling).

BROADWAY AREA EATS

Memphis Blues Barbeque House.  1465 W. Broadway; (604) 738-6806.

Nice 'n' Spicy Reggae Cafe.  Closed Sun. 382 W. Broadway; (604) 877-0189.

Vij's.  Dinner only. 1480 W. 11th Ave. (two blocks south of Broadway); www.vijs.ca or (604) 736-6664.