Vancouver Dreaming

By Maggie and Larry Burr - Vancouver

(Originally appeared in Wine, Food & Friends, Issue #95, Fall 2010)

Until the 1970’s, Vancouver’s dining scene was undistinguished. We had a few fine dining restaurants–think anniversaries, big dates–mostly French or German, as well as places to go for Mother’s Day or to take Grandma when she came to visit–mostly English-inspired. Wine was a rarity; a few restaurants offered a very small wine selection by the bottle, but hard liquor was the order of the day. For fun, the younger crowd would go to Chinatown for chow mein and chop suey. We would pile into one of the huge, unlicensed Chinese restaurants where the waiters turned a blind eye to your bottle under the table, and order a “set-up”–an empty glass and mixer of choice (remember rye and ginger or rum and coke). When the police raided the restaurant everyone could disavow any knowledge of how that bottle got there.

Then, three remarkable European restaurateurs came to Vancouver, and all of a sudden eating out became exciting and fun. Host-extraordinaire Erwin Doebeli from Switzerland opened The William Tell, and introduced us to exotic dishes such as Fondue and Raclette, also offering what were to us unusual wines–Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Chasselas. In 1973 young Umberto Menghi came to town. Umberto’s Italian restaurants were (and still are) hugely popular. His menus were imaginative, his flavorful food always well-prepared, his staff highly-trained, and he, too, offered wine not formerly available, Italian of course, and even some Californians.

Bruno Marti was the third chef to arrive. Bruno’s contribution to Vancouver’s excellence cannot be overstated. Besides cooking for 35 years at his wonderful rural restaurant La Belle Auberge, he himself has won many competitions and also guided young chefs to medals; he is best known as the leading force of the Culinary Olympics.

These men, with their high standards of food, ambience and ser vice, created a tantalizing buzz of excitement around eating out, and attracted a large group of adventurous diners who dine out regularly and expect the highest quality in their restaurant experience. They encouraged, mentored and inspired a whole generation of young chefs, waiters and sommeliers who became “the second wave.”