Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine


Take a Bite Out of Vancouver

by Michael J. Solender
images courtesy Tourism Vancouver and Michael J. Solender

“Where are we eating next?” became the favorite parlor game for my wife, sister-in-law, and me during our three-week stay in Vancouver, British Columbia’s capital and favored port city. That we conducted this guide-book and app-reliant inquiry at mealtime whilst dining at a prior chosen restaurant did not take away from the conquest, it simply provided another high-barred frame of reference we sought to top with our next choice. And in more than 30 meals out, we rarely met with disappointment.

Vancouver is a culinary crossroads where dozens of Pacific Rim and beyond cultures intersect with bounty from the cold Pacific Northwest waters, four seasons of verdant produce, sustainably farmed proteins, artisanal dairies and cheesemakers, and a curious Canadian unabashed approach to creativity in the kitchen that has garnering worldwide notice and acclaim.

Granville Island Public Market

A fine introduction and gastronomic exploration of Vancouver starts with Granville Island Public Market, the heart of Vancouver’s food scene. Local guides, Vancouver Foodie Tours, provide an excellent half-day primer sharing the intriguing backstory behind the urban-planning/revitalization project that transformed a declining parcel of industrial warehouses into a gleaming showcase of Vancouver’s top specialty food purveyors and craft artisans.

No chains or franchises here, the market is host to dozens of local food shops that tempt all the senses. Oyama Sausage are masters in the art of charcuterie and worth a lingering visit—the British Columbia red wine prosciutto and Bison bresaola are just two specialties not found elsewhere. Lee’s Donuts is a soul-lifting experience and sure to knock the most resolute off their diet as the giant fritters (apple/maple are killer) and honey-dipped raised donuts take intrepid eaters back to childhood memories of grandma’s just-made fried cakes.

At Seafood City, find off-the-boat locally-caught goodness (sablefish, swordfish, ocean trout, and whitefish are among the catch) complemented by a huge smoked fish selection. The smoky maple glazed salmon was on my bagel (procured at the market’s Siegel’s Bagels) within minutes of purchase and an instant favorite.

Granville Island Tea Company always has their spiced chai latte on hand for sampling among their exotic varieties, and Benton Brother’s Fine Cheese showcases small batch artisanal local cheeses like the Rathtrevor, a tangy mountain hard cheese that lights up when paired with nearby #1 Orchard’s Ambrosia apples. When it is time for lunch, Edible Canada is a smart choice with palate pleasers for carnivores and vegetarians alike—it’s easy to go vegan here with the extra crispy Falafel Veggie Bowl taking a starring role.

Come to understand Vancouver through its food culture, and you’ll recognize why it’s such a popular tourist destination.

A Wok Around Chinatown is a half-day introduction to Vancouver’s Chinatown, the largest in Canada and one the oldest surviving in North America. Historian Robert Sung is your guide and begins your journey at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Modeled after private classical gardens in the city of Suzhou during the Ming Dynasty, the stunning design has been recognized by National Geographic as one of the most beautiful gardens in the world.

Sung shares the history of Chinese immigration into Vancouver and takes visitors on a walking tour of the surrounding neighborhoods including stops at traditional markets, the fabled New Town Bakery, where their award-winning apple tarts fly off the shelves (more than 1,000 are sold each day) and legendary pork steamed buns often have neighbors three-deep at their bustling counter. Sung peppers the walk with tales of Vancouver’s Chinese—past and present—and the outsized influence Chinese investment is playing in today’s red-hot real estate market.

Lunch is Mandarin-style dim sum at Floata Seafood Restaurant, where at Sung’s urging, chicken feet are consumed with gusto as are pork shu mai and shrimp ha gow. Sung is greeted at every stop as a visiting dignitary. His friends at a nearby local butcher shop offer samples of tasty barbecued pork, and pal Daniel Lui treats his group to a traditional Chinese Gong Fu Ga tea-instruction at The Chinese Tea Shop.

Stanley Park

Vancouver’s Stanley Park, heralded as the top public park in the world by Trip Advisor in 2014, routinely makes global top 10 lists for good reason. This 1,000-acre oasis of civility on downtown’s edge is surrounded by water on three sides and is a mecca for joggers, families, birdwatchers, and all looking for peaceful respite from the bustling city.

Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tours deliver an hour-long overview of the park’s offerings and diversity, traversing a ring road providing glimpses of the park’s notable rose garden, rugby fields, harbor views, and stops for photos at the First Nations (indigenous Canadian people) totem poles and gardens.

Visitors get a hint of how serious Vancouverites are about their dining by taking in lunch at the Stanley Park Bar & Grill. The highest order pub grub—notably their Fish & Chips—is made even better when framed up against their own Stanley Park micro-brew lager.

Small, Yet Mighty

Searching Yelp for “Vancouver Restaurants” yields more than 3,000 results. Keep in mind, many are of the tiny storefront variety barely seating more than a dozen.

Take the insane Japanese hot dog mash-up parlor JAPADOG—a must try—if only for the weirdness factor. The signature dog here is the Terimayo, a decent New York-style frank with Teriyaki sauce, mayo, and seaweed. Braver souls go for the Yakisoba, buckwheat noodles and bit of pickled ginger topping the umami and earthy Japanese Arabiki sausage. Pace yourself—even the fries get a Japanese twist! Do you want Bonito (dried fish) flakes with that?

I walked by the minute Saj & Co. Lebanese restaurant nearly a dozen times before deciding on a whim to try it. The place can’t be more than 300 sq. ft., with room for 10 people at most, but proved a truly special dining experience. The open kitchen features a traditional Lebanese heated dome (Saj), where vegan and vegetarian flatbread wraps and sandwiches are prepared lovingly before your eyes. Kale, spinach, zaatar, haloumi cheese with olives, hummus, cucumber, and mint meld into the mind-blowing Super Green—a wrap I could eat every day. The menu is huge, and so are the portions, so consider sharing, or not—you may want to enjoy the goodness all to yourself.

Fabulous Fusion

Working up an appetite in Vancouver offers twice the tourist reward, as a leisurely meal affords the perfect opportunity to recount the day’s less-than-trivial pursuits.

Falling into Café Il Nido by chance one late afternoon, we found a splendidly cozy dining room, attentive service, and an inventive approach to classic Venetian dishes. It was the perfect venue to recap our long day at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. A bit weary from hiking the park and soaking in the unimpeded vistas from the famed bridge, my wife and I were taken by the garlicky and pesto wild mushroom appetizer and fennel and apple salade de mer, followed by pillowy gnocchi dancing in a hearty sausage ragu. The meal here was the perfect capper to our glorious fall outing.

Ancora Waterfront Dining is described online as Peruvian/Japanese fusion bistro—a modest descriptor falling well short in capturing just how wonderful this restaurant is. I enjoyed three distinct dining experiences here, each left me wishing this restaurant was not 3,500 miles from my home in Charlotte.

Listed as one of Canada’s best 100 restaurants in both 2016 and 2017 by Canada’sBest100.com, Ancora is polished and sophisticated at every turn, executing both on and off the menu. The harborside eatery glows even on cloudy days from the bank of floor to ceiling windows overlooking the rambling Vancouver Sea Wall (a fabulous miles-long linear park) with crisp white linens and handsome settings atop well-spaced tables.

Servers are well versed in both menu and cocktail offerings; Pisco Sours at Ancora are frothy, tangy, and the perfect aperitif for the treats to come. Crispy prawn cousa is a delightful starter, where meaty prawns flank lightly buttered potato chubs, rocoto harissa, kale, avocado, and a piquant escabeche sauce. The main event is a Forbidden rice paella with Ling Cod, chorizo, corn, and baby shrimp. Herbal and spice infusions and slow cooking make Ancora’s dishes stand out. The pastry chef displays remarkable prowess here with ganache’s and pastry combinations of Dark Chocolate and Yuzu and Grapefruit and Macha positively stealing the show.

A visit to Canada Place is a must for tourists to take in the downtown buzz, fabulous public art, and centerpiece plazas built for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Flyover Canada is a heart-pumping 4D simulated helicopter flight over the country from the cold seas off Newfoundland to the stunning drop of Niagara Falls, through downtown Toronto, over Calgary prairies and atop the Banff glacier and into Vancouver.

After your flight, splurge and head over to Miku, serving the most sought after Abori-style (blowtorch famed) sushi in the city. The buzzy eye-popping dining room is great for people watching and even better for enjoying expertly prepared Japanese cuisine featuring the best of the Pacific Northwest’s bounty.

There’s simply one requirement for visiting Vancouver ... come hungry!

Holidays on Horseback at Tryon Resort: A Pony for Every Stocking

by Zenda Douglas • images courtesy Tryon Resort, Tryon International Equestrian Center, Frantz Photography

Who, as a child, never dreamed of receiving a real, live pony for Christmas or other winter holiday? Most of us did and had not a bit of concern that it wouldn’t fit down the chimney, in our stocking, or even inside our house. Our dreams were replete with sounds of clopping, fast runners, flowing manes, championship ribbons, and warm nuzzles. But as colts and phillies grow up, so do children. Childhood dreams may fade, and perhaps become a little more practical, but they never really leave us. No matter how far we’ve roamed away from these childhood wishes, or if we’ve managed to retain the love and thrill of horses in our lives, there is a place—a magnificent place—where we can go to enjoy and honor horses, their regal beauty and their skill.

Opened in June 2014, Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) is set amid the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and offers expansive scenic mountain views. Its location in Mill Spring, North Carolina, was strategically chosen to leverage the long-standing equestrian tradition of the area. TIEC stands as one of the world’s premier equestrian lifestyle destinations, taking its place among iconic destinations such as Normandy, Stockholm, Rome, and Aachen as host to equestrian sport’s most distinguished championships.

A spring, summer, and fall haven for equestrian competitors and enthusiasts, TIEC features world-class facilities for hunter/jumper, dressage, and eventing competitions. Twelve riding arenas and 1,200 permanent horse stalls accommodate 42 weeks of competition. Spectator seating—much of which is protected from the weather—allows visitors to comfortably monitor and appreciate the horses and riders they come to see.

TIEC is the signature piece of Tryon Resort, which spreads out over 1,600 acres of a rural area that is located within an hour of the bustling cities of Asheville, Charlotte, and Greenville. Tryon Resort is a year-round destination for travelers and guests seeking diverse cuisine, shopping, family entertainment, and a unique getaway experience.

The month of November ushers in a host of events and activities that will begin to turn Tryon Resort into a winterland playground for the holiday season. Returning this year is the Festival of the Hunt, several days of competitive fox hunting fun that culminates with the TIEC Field Hunter Championships. A Festival of the Hunt Gala, open to the public, will celebrate the week’s activities. 

Tryon Resort is the place to be on Thanksgiving Day, when a scrumptious holiday feast is served. Stay in place to enjoy December’s Winterfest Saturdays, when kids can join Santa for a pancake breakfast and Mrs. Claus for story time. There will be classic Christmas movies, time to decorate cookies, and free rides on TIEC’s Venetian carousel. Adults get in on the fun with the Christmas Eve EVE Ugly Sweater Contest. Ring in the New Year by being on the scene for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Equestrian sport carries a centuries-long reputation for being an elitist pursuit available only to affluent and well-positioned individuals and families. Owning a horse, not to mention having leisure time, was financially prohibitive for many people, and participation in the sport was essentially closed to all but the rich and fortunate. The partners behind Tryon Resort have, from the beginning, set out to challenge that perception, indeed reality, of equestrian sport, however. They desired to create a property accessible to all people, one that educates the public about horses and encourages widespread participation in equestrian sports.

To that goal, much effort has been extended to make Tryon Resort open and affordable with amenities, activities, and events that have a wide appeal. As a result, there is no admission fee to enter the property, and many events, like the very popular signature Saturday Night Lights—featuring everything from live bands and performances to carousel and pony rides and world-class equestrian competitions—are free. The only requirement for these is an interest in and love of horses. Looking around and horse-gazing are real activities.

Still, at the heart of equestrian sport is competition. In 2018, TIEC will shine on the international stage as host to the FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG). Administered by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), the worldwide governing body of equestrian sport, WEG is the major international championship event for the eight core equestrian disciplines of show jumping, dressage and para-equestrian dressage, eventing, driving, endurance, vaulting, and reining. More than 500,000 people are expected to attend the 12-day event to be held at Tryon Resort.

Tryon Resort includes amenities that are very close to the TIEC grounds. Named one of the “Best Places to Play” by Golf Digest, Cleghorn Golf and Sports Club is available to Tryon Resort guests, and membership is open to the public. The Club features a George Cobb-designed, exceptional 18-hole course, as well as a pool, basketball court, tennis courts, and other outdoor games. The Cleghorn Gun Club offers world-class clay pigeon shooting spread out over a 15-station course positioned for every shooter level. Future expansion calls for a water park and fitness center.

Shoppers will delight at all the unique opportunities that exist among Tryon Resort’s shops and stores. Easily found is everything from sundries to stock home base to the perfect pair of boots. Visitors can meander through Dover Saddlery to explore their outstanding selection of equestrian lifestyle merchandise and tack. Tryon Resort’s annual Christmas Market features unique arts and craft vendors.

Home away from home is special to all guests—riders, workers, spectators, vacationers, individuals, families, and groups—and Tryon Resort has been thoughtful and innovative in designing housing accommodations that fit perfectly within the landscape of rolling hills and mountains and the equestrian lifestyle.

Fifteen three- or five-bedroom cabins follow alongside the river that runs throughout the property, each one well appointed, comfortable, and spacious. Vaulted ceilings, fireplaces, and roomy screened porches guarantee the cabins are warm and cozy. Thoroughly modern electronics, kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms make convenience a given. Forty ‘tiny house’ cottages create a village of compact luxury. Also on the property is the 50-room Stable House Inn, in addition to luxurious rental homes, and there are more than 100 RV spots with full hookups.

Nearby, the historic Lodge on Lake Lure, owned by Tryon Resort, offers a lakeside retreat combining Southern hospitality with a rustic flair. Seventeen rooms and indoor and outdoor event space, both beautiful, make the Lodge on Lake Lure a much sought-after location for weddings, family reunions, or group events. Plans are currently underway to build two new luxury hotels on the Tryon Resort property as well.

Hay Is for Horses

Horses like to eat a steady diet of hay, grass, grains, and the occasional apple. Every day. All the time. But people like to shake it up a bit and enjoy a wide variety of food. Fortunately, for visitors and guests of Tryon Resort, food options are plentiful. And not just ordinary food, but cuisine, and not just cuisine, but diverse and creative cuisine. The food scene here is continuously growing; numerous new restaurants have opened up since the Resort’s opening. Most of them are clustered together in the TIEC village, making it unnecessary to leave the property in search of dining options. Below are a few of the eating establishments guests can reach on foot, and they᾿re all open to the public.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week ... just what the crowd expects from Roger’s Diner. What may come as something of a surprise from this authentic, 50s-inspired diner is just how good the food is. Think all-day breakfast, a menu of Southern classics and farm-to-table dishes all made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. From a veggie omelet to awesome onion rings to pot roast, everyone will find something on the menu with their name on it.

For fine dining without the fancy dress code, capture a seat at Legends Grille. The menu is artful and the presentation is elegant. Come back often to get to know the extensive, creatively-designed menu. The horseradish encrusted wild salmon is sautéed and served with orange-vodka and dill broth is masterful. The lobster risotto is the perfect texture, decorated with flavorful asparagus tips and English peas. Claim a seat in the covered Legends Club pavilion for the best views of every grand prix competition.

To find delicately handcrafted, edible works of art, visit Blue Ginger Sushi & Noodles, where you’ll enjoy the freshest seafood prepared using locally-sourced ingredients. The Japanese cuisine offers sushimi and traditional sushi, noodles, and Sake and offers a large selection of creative roll combinations.

An entertainment event may be the reason visitors first visit Campagna, but what brings them back time and time again are the hearty Italian dishes in a classic Italian setting. Enjoy a cocktail from the restaurant’s full bar before ordering from the appealing menu. Will it be wood-fired pizzas or the Melanzane Alla Jennifer with roasted eggplant rolled with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese? Perhaps the Linguine Al Gamberi prepared with fresh shrimp and zucchini in an olive oil and garlic sauce suits your fancy. This menu is fun to ponder over.

The General Store is an on-site store and grocery with anything you could need for your convenience during your time at TIEC, including groceries, toiletries, house supplies, craft beer, wine, coffee, donuts, and more. Need to cool down? Stop by the General Store and try the famous hand-dipped ice cream.

Tryon Resort is surrounded by a number of small towns scattered across this rural, mountainous area. Guests seeking a day trip or two can surely find what they’re looking for on the main streets of Tryon, Landrum, Saluda, Hendersonville, Columbus, and Lake Lure. Each town is distinctive in its history and charm. Each has its own personality enhanced by unique small shops and stores. However, they all have two things in common—a love of horses (breeches and boots are welcome here) and good food. Here is a short list of some of the restaurants that visitors will want to add to their itineraries: Hare and Hound in Landrum, SC; Huckleberry’s in Tryon; Never Blue in Hendersonville; Purple Onion in Saluda; Wild Roots Café in Forest City; and the Tree Tops Restaurant at the Lodge at Lake Lure.

While out, plan to stop in, tour, and taste the wineries dotting the area, including: Green Creek Winery and Russian Chapel Hills Winery in Columbus; Mountain Brook Vineyards and Overmountain Vineyards in Tryon; and Parker-Binns Vineyard in Mill Spring. Be sure to bring a designated driver along, and enjoy the ride!

Pot O’ Gold: Bespoke Ireland Golf Tour Delights as Cultural and Culinary Sophistication Pair with World-class Golf

by Michael J. Solender
images courtesy Bushmills Inn, Carr Golf, Mel Maclaine, PMGC, Michael J. Solender

“Always order the seafood chowder in Ireland,” one of my playing partners said on day one of a recent eight-day golfing tour of Ireland’s northeast and the north and west of Northern Ireland.

Mere hours after arriving in Dublin, we were fueling up in the clubhouse grill at Portmarnock Golf Club. Site of numerous Irish Open Championships and rated one of the top 100 courses in the world by Golf Digest, Portmarnock’s golf links is legendary.

In choosing Ireland, I knew I was in for the golf experience of a lifetime, though five-star dining throughout the Emerald Isle was not on my radar. Ordering the chowder that first day provided only a hint of the culinary delights to come.

Chock-full of Atlantic cod, North Sea salmon, whitefish, and scallops, the creamy chowder was flecked with fresh thyme, parsley, flavorful new potatoes, and just a hint of sherry. A slice (or two) of fabled Irish brown bread, grainy and toothsome with a yeasty nose and a lovely crust, was all I needed as fortification for the awaiting round.

Hosted by Carr Golf, Ireland’s top custom golf tour operator for more than 27 years, our group of seven was set to enjoy a week’s worth of the best golf, dining, and cultural experiences this enchanted land has to offer.

After starting in Dublin at Portmarnock, we next headed north and west into Northern Ireland, beyond Belfast.

Counties Down, Donnegal, Sligo, and Mayo lined an itinerary that saw us play at the storied Royal County Down, Royal Portrush (site of the 2019 British Open Championship), Portstewart, Rosapenna, and Enniscrone.

My favorite was Portstewart, with its high ridges and jutting dunes interrupted by ribbons of green fairway, all framed by the Atlantic and its unceasing surf. Together with a club member who doubled as a caddy, I found an elusive October sunny day, and, while not exactly taming the course, finished respectably.

As my host Marty Carr, executive chair of Carr Golf remarked, “Irish links golf is an experience unlike any
other.” I now have first-hand knowledge of that fact and heartily concur.

Royal County Down

Even the most focused golfing buddy-trip in Ireland however, does not subsist on golf alone.

Case in point: Slieve Donard Resort and Spa in Newcastle embodied the gold standard of hospitality, accommodations, and fine dining.

In the shadow of the magnificent Mourne Mountains and abutting the sea only steps from its doors, the Slieve Donard has a history extending back to 1897. It was then the Belfast and County Down Railway decided to build a hotel that was worthy of its magnificent setting creating the “most imposing structure of its kind in Ireland.”

Today, the stunning Victorian hotel rests on six acres, boasts a world-class spa, fitness center, and luxurious bedrooms. The Slieve’s public space encourages lingering in quiet conversation nooks, and the property’s walking proximity to both the straw-colored beachfront and the famed Royal County Down Golf Links make it an ideal choice.

To dine here is to know both service and inspired nouvelle Irish cuisine. Menus are crafted with a great deal of forethought as they embrace farm to fork dining—without shouting it like most in America do—with proteins, produce, and dairy.

Tired from a day on the links, our group took golfer’s spa treatments (note: foot exfoliation is the bomb), cleaned up, and set off to the Slieve’s Oak Restaurant. Shared starters included an ethereal Cannelloni of Killkeel Crab and Cucumber served with watermelon salad and a piquant basil aioli and Tian of Spiced Portavogie Prawns and Avocado topped by a light chili infused oil, sweet mango, and coconut foam. The appetizer set the senses a buzz in anticipation of the mains.

For the main, I went with the Herb Crusted Rump of Mourne Lamb. Buttery tender, the lamb was a perfect mid-rare and served with a medley of root vegetables, green pea mint purée, shallot tart tartin, and a red wine jus.

Service is subtle and unobtrusive yet appears just as you require it with servers filling water glasses, whisking away bread plates, and making gentle inquiries as to the overall experience.

The tiny welcoming village of Bushmills was next on our agenda, where nearby Royal Portrush, the site of the 2019 British Open, awaited us.

After a stunning drive along the Causeway Coast, a warming peat fire welcomed us at the historic Bushmills Inn, its origins extending back to the 17th century. A charming country style inn, Bushmills takes particular pride and care in showcasing the best of Ulster hospitality and cuisine.

Local dishes featured on their menu (called ‘scrans’, a local expression for a good meal) include Dalriada Cullen Skink, which is a traditional Ulster Scots dish of smoked haddock, local potatoes, scallions and poached egg; Brotchan, an old name for a thick soup; toasted soda farls; and potato bread ‘chips’.

Bushmills excels in all facets of the kitchen, though breakfast is the true standout. This is the place to enjoy a traditional Irish breakfast with slab bacon, rashers and blood pudding, broiled tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, eggs as you like them, and freshly-baked Irish soda bread.

Giant’s Causeway

Nearby was one of my favorite diversions beyond the golf course, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Giant’s Causeway. An expansive geological wonder situated alongside Northern Ireland’s shores, this massive jigsaw puzzle of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns and jagged rock formations was formed over 60 million years of volcanic activity. Legend has the mythical Celtic warrior Finn McCool constructing a jumbled stone walking path all the way to Scotland to reach his beloved.

Allow at least three hours to experience the exhibitions, hike the walking trails, and simply wonder at the crashing surf of this natural marvel.

Hawk Walks

Highlighting our sojourn was an overnight stay at Mt. Falcon Estate in County Mayo. This stunning country manor home rests along the famed River Moy and boasts some of the best salmon fishing in the country.

Take a “Hawk Walk” along the forested grounds with onsite falconer, Jason Deasey. Deasey is thrilled to introduce you to his “harem” of Harris hawks, owls, and assorted raptors, who, together with an incredibly well-trained Hungarian Viszla, put on a spellbinding display of this exhilarating ancient hunting technique.

Proprietor Alan Maloney has spent years restoring this baronial lodge into one of the most sought-after countryside retreats in the country. No detail is too small in ensuring guests’ comfort, from the moist heat of the ever burning peat fires, comfy public rooms, an inviting bar with the finest Irish spirits, and first rate dining.

With incredible countryside, warm hospitality, and the best golf on the planet, it’s easy to see why Irish eyes are smiling.

For more information on Carr Golf, visit www.carrgolf.com, or call 1.855.617.5701 (U.S. toll free).