What’s your guilty pleasure?

While this could lead to a myriad of hedonistic responses, I’m talking about the edible guilty pleasure. 

As a gluttonous individual, I must admit that I don’t consume many things with guilt. Chocolate, beer, wine, triple crème Brie, baked goods and steak are some of my favourite things! That aside, I’ve discovered that croissants are an irresistible treat that I would eat everyday if I could eliminate thoughts of the repercussions. Occasionally I display signs of self-control, but it’s mostly a facade and I find myself frequently seeking the best classic or filled version in town. From the aroma and the flaky, buttery mouth feel, to the memories rushing back from my five weeks spent in France, a good croissant can bring me into foodie bliss.

Temper Chocolate & Pastry, Ham & Cheese Croissant

[Croissant not on tour – from Temper Pastry in Dundarave Village]

In early February, I joined Culinary Ambassador Andrew Louie and a family of “kiwis” on Vancouver Foodie Tours’ Guilty Pleasures Gourmet Tour (GPGT). Our first stop of the day was at the highly esteemed Kirin Restaurant on Alberni Street.

Andrew began our tour by asking guests what their “guilty pleasure” is. Naturally, I used the aforementioned croissant as my response, without including all of the romanticized details. Other guests responded with the usual suspects: ice cream, chocolate, cheesecake and french fries.

As we waited for our first samplings on the tour, we played the introduction game, getting to know each other a little better as you do when you’re with strangers. However, since we had a small group that consisted of me plus a family, it was really just Andrew and I getting to know them. Romy, Rowena, Harriet, Elsie and Charlie are all originally from New Zealand and were in Vancouver for the week ready to explore everything cultural and gastronomical that they possibly could. Hence, why they were on this tour.

Harriet and Elsie, Tour Attendees

Harriet and Elsie, Tour Attendees

I can’t say that I’m the type of person who goes to a new city and takes a guided tour, but I must admit that I always love to do it in the city that I live in. Since I’m far from a history buff, I revel in learning about the buildings that I walk by on a regular basis. I also appreciate delving into conversations about ingredients and the process of certain dishes, which is something I noticed happening during our tour.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when initially signing up for the GPGT, genuinely wondering, “How is it different than every other walking food tour out there?”  I knew I would be eating at five different “gourmet” eateries but I didn’t expect our culinary ambassador to be equipped with so much knowledge. It’s evident that the man loves food, loves this city and loves his job. From teaching us culturally appropriate manners when dining at ethnic restaurants (Kirin’s) to taking us inside the iconic Marine Building to show us the intricate decor from the second floor, this tour offered a plethora of information. The path we took wasn’t set in stone, and the guests’ hunger and desire to learn dictated where and when we went to the eateries involved.

Marine Building

Marine Building

Back to the food…

Kirin Chinese Restaurant has placed in the top three for “Vancouver’s Best Dim Sum” for six consecutive years, in addition to receiving other accolades such as best Chinese formal/fine dining.

While chowing down on the steamed prawn and pork dumpling and the sticky rice with pork and dried scallop wrapped in lotus leaf, we sipped on Jasmine tea and were taught a lesson in manners. This included learning how to signal “thank you” without saying a word (tap three fingers on table) and how to politely ask for more tea by properly propping the lid on the teapot. We also learned the history of dim sum, also known as yum cha, and where the name derives from.

Urban Fare, though it supplies heaps of “guilty pleasures” and is technically a “gourmet grocery store”, didn’t really seem to fit the bill for this particular tour. I would be blatantly lying if I said that I’d opt for this stop over Market by Jean-George at the Shangri-La, which is only a stop on the Sunday tours. That said, we did indulge in some delicious Vermeer cheese, a Thomas Haas chocolate, a Little Qualicum Cheeseworks based pastry and a sampling of Blasted Church‘s Big Bang Theory. Other than the Vermeer cheese, which is from the Netherlands (named after Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer?), all of the samplings were made locally. Urban Fare carries a myriad of West Coast products as well as a vast selection of quality, imported goods.

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Italian Kitchen, which is part of the Glowbal Group collection, is known for taking precedence in the idea of sharing food rather than each guest ordering only an entrée. While the latter is still an option, their menu boasts a variety of appetizers and small plates that cater to “family style dining”.

Our group tasted their signature meatball, their fresh burrata, proscuitto crostini, an arugula and fennel salad and a sampling of the 2012 Tinhorn Gewürztraminer and Prospect Winery’s Merlot Cabernet. Although their meatball has earned a few awards in local challenges, I found that the consistency was too finely ground for my liking and preferred the complementing flavours and textures of the burrata and proscuitto crostini.

“Our menu travels through Italy and brings you rare and respected regional dishes, as well the time-tested favourites, made with the best imported and local products available.”

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Hubbub is a sandwich shop that I’ve walked by a ton of times wishing that it was time for lunch. They have a simple menu with each sandwich containing the same toppings (pickled jalapenos, creamy garlic sauce, romaine lettuce, cilantro, and crunchy caramelized onions) atop a toasted baguette to which a choice of protein is added. We tasted a half order of their flavourful and messy pulled pork sandwich accompanied by half a pint of Phillips Blue Buck beer. The Pulled Pork Sandwich earned them a spot in Follow Me Foodie’s “Vancouver’s top 20 Sandwiches/Burgers” and well as Erin Ireland’s “Top Sandwiches in Vancouver”.

Hubbub’s pulled pork is marinated for 24 hours until it is spicy and tender, then it is slow roasted and prepared for serving, all of which typically takes a total of three days. They have a rotating selection of craft beers so the Pulled Pork Sandwich may not always pair with the beer on tap as perfectly as it paired with the Blue Buck. Basically any beer will do though as this sandwich packs some punch and will set your mouth afire. Spice sensitive folks beware.

Hubbub

Pulled Pork Sandwich with Phillip’s Blue Buck

We concluded our tour with a sweet finish at Bella Gelateria, a gelato shop serving “North America’s best gelato and sorbetto”. This is arguable, of course, but Bella and owner James Coleridge have won many accolades that support this statement. Inspired by old-world handcrafted gelato as they once made in Italy, they make everything from scratch using both local and international ingredients.

My favourite thing about the shop is that they concoct unique flavours through seemingly unusual ingredient combinations. Want a beer gelato? They can do that. How about noodles in your gelato? They can do that too.

My favourite flavour at the moment though is the salted caramel. My least favourite thing is the constant line.

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Guilty Pleasures Gourmet Tour Pricing: $69 (+ $20 for optional alcoholic pairings). Use Promo Code VanEatsXVFT and you’ll save $20 of your total price ($69 with alcohol, $49 without). Book your tour here.

What’s your guilty pleasure? Leave me a comment below! 

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