by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
No specific reason is needed to drive or take the 3.5-hour train ride (www.amtrak.com) to Vancouver, B.C. - maybe you just really want to go! The city will host its Pride Parade and Festival on July 31 and the 22nd Vancouver Queer Film Festival from August 11 through 21. But don't wait until summer; escape to this gorgeous Northwest destination whenever you feel like it, because it's as easy as putting gas in your tank or catching the next train. Visit www.tourismvancouver.com for upcoming events and more information. Here's what I discovered on my latest trip to Vancouver.
The Westin Grand, Vancouver
The host hotel of Vancouver Pride a year ago is The Westin Grand, situated centrally in downtown Vancouver on Robson Street. Everything is a convenient walk away: retail stores, museums, restaurants, coffee shops, theaters, and the waterfront. Guests are a mix of business and leisure travelers - at times the all-suite property feels a bit corporate, and at other times it lets its hair down. Overall, The Westin Grand is convenient and comfortable, and you can't go wrong with that combination. My polished corner suite had a spacious balcony with eastern views of the city, and included a three-person couch, flatscreen TV with cable, work desk, bathroom with double-accessible entries, coffeemaker with Starbucks coffee and Tazo tea, and one of Westin's exclusive heavenly beds. If traveling to Vancouver by train, take light rail to the Granville stop and exit to Robson Street, then walk two blocks.
EAT / DRINK
Glowbal Grill & Satay Bar
If it's good enough for Robert Pattinson, it's good enough for me. The world's sexiest vampire is one of several high-profile diners to be seen at Glowbal Grill & Satay Bar, an upscale steak house wedged into the happening Yaletown district. Glowbal is hot because of its clientele, but primarily for its menu. A plate of burrata (buttery cheese) with oven-dried tomatoes and pesto kicked off a fabulous meal, and the next course was surreal - the restaurant's version of spaghetti and meatballs was a reconstruction of Kobe meatballs, tomato garlic confit atop truffle creamed pasta and a dusting of parmigiano reggiano. It was ridiculously good, and almost as delicious were the ribeye and sablefish. Quick tip: go with the spaghetti and meatballs, and fall in love. Other choices include lamb shank, prime rib burger, roasted half chicken, wild salmon, and ahi tuna, plus a hefty selection of sides, appetizers, salads and soups. For dessert, I recommend the chocolate Baileys bread pudding: Baileys creme anglaise and toffee crumble oozing over a yummy bread pudding. Service is attentive and personable, and seating is both indoors and outdoors. Post-meal, stay for a glass of wine or cocktail at Afterglow, a chic lounge at the back of the dining area. Do notice the 'meat rack' on the way to the restroom, which furnishes mouthwash, of all things.
There's something to be said about consistency, like the constant stream of people coming into the quaint Adesso Bistro in Vancouver's West End neighborhood. Nestled in the lower level of an apartment building on a calm residential street, only locals know about this restaurant, which offers diners a taste of Italy's Ligurian region, which introduced pesto and focaccia to the world. First courses at Adesso include arancini (croquettes of risotto, prosciutto and mozzarella), black truffle pizza, steamed Quadra Island mussels, and bruschetta alla quatro. I went with the watercress and goat's cheese salad topped with candied pecans and black olive vinaigrette, and was not disappointed in the slightest. My entree was linguine with a hearty, rich lamb ragout that was nicely hinted with white wine and garlic - it appears on the current menu, but a mushroom ragout replaces the lamb. Dessert offerings range from braised apples in caramel to lemon custard with pine nuts, and from passionfruit sorbet to a plate of biscotti and cookies. Authentic Italian espresso or coffee will round out a great meal in a classy, yet chill, dining room with a small bar counter - outdoor patio seating is available, weather permitting.
MARKET by Jean-Georges (at Shangri-La Hotel)
When I last visited the newly opened Shangri-La Hotel, the outside deck at its signature bar-lounge MARKET hadn't been unveiled yet and neither had this trendy nightspot hosted its 'Pink Parties on the Patio' in celebration of 2010 Vancouver Pride. Even though it's technically a hotel bar, MARKET is buoyed by a cast of hip regulars who find its modern features and designer cocktails too addictive. Conceptualized by maverick restaurateur Jean-Georges, the sleek lounge and adjoining supper quarters are ideal settings for Gays and straights in pursuit of a stylish meeting point or a wind-down spot on a night out. On weekends, it can be a little crowded and hetero-heavy. The lychee-raspberry bellinis and ginger margaritas are to die for, and though I didn't try it the kumquats mojito sounds like the bomb. The Shangri-La Hotel is grand and you may feel intimidated when you come in from the street, but proceed to the elevators and go up to the third floor and you'll surely be dazzled.
Vida Wellness Spa
What's not to love about being worked on by a therapist who relaxed kd lang after her stunning performance of 'Hallelujah' at last year's Winter Games? He's the same guy who soothed a sore Britney Spears, reinvigorated a tired Brooke Shields, and nursed a national Middle Eastern soccer team back to shape. While I'm not at liberty to give out his name, I will say that he practices at Vida Wellness Spa - two of them, in fact. And it's a testament to this Vancouver-based company's brand to hire the very best. The Westin Bayshore location was opened just before the 2010 Olympics, and the stroll along the Vancouver waterfront is a peaceful lead-up to your massage treatment. Located in a corner wing of the ground floor, this Vida Wellness Spa is larger than its sister property at the Sutton Place Hotel, but it sparkles with equal sophistication in decor and professional service. I opted for the Performance Sports Massage, which I suggest for joggers, volleyball players, swimmers, and frequent on-footers like myself - it was a mildly intense, much-needed treatment that allowed me to sleep well that night. Vida Wellness does have a spa in Seattle, at the Pan Pacific Hotel, and they've just introduced the Men's Champissage Facial, a 60-minute treatment that addresses aging concerns using a special oil from Morocco and includes a head and scalp massage, retailing for $99. The Bambuza Back Scrub, using bamboo beads and refreshing menthol, can be added for an extra $16.
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