Why Parq Vancouver Is the City’s Hottest New Food Destination
Downtown Vancouver’s newest entertainment precinct is a dining utopia for everything BC
After years of widespread anticipation, Parq Vancouver has finally opened its doors. As its president, Joe Brunini, explains, the half-billion-dollar entertainment precinct is not only “unique to Vancouver, but most importantly, uniquely Vancouver.” The complex features casinos, a hotel, and above all, the impressive food and beverage options presented.
The Daily Meal was given an exclusive first look at Parq Vancouver’s appetizing offerings, headed up by award-winning restaurateur Elizabeth Blau and her husband, executive chef Kim Canteenwalla. Canteenwalla grew up in Montreal before traveling internationally to hone his craft as a truly globally influenced chef. And now, in Vancouver, he’s appreciative of what makes the city’s dining scene so distinct: the diversity that brings in so many global flavors to the city and is embraced by the its chefs, restaurants, and diners. “The Asian population is very diverse,” Canteenwalla explains. “One of the things that I really like about Vancouver is that it has that an entrepreneurial spirit. Young guys from these diverse backgrounds that grew up here in Vancouver have taken what they know about the local available produce, and put it into what was comforting for them when they were growing up.” The end result is a wonderfully authentic, family-influenced, and culturally respectful exhibition of international cuisine within a 10-mile radius of the city center.
But make no mistake, despite Parq Vancouver’s global interest on the international tourism market, Canteenwalla still maintains there’s a true local focus. “First and foremost, we wanted to get to the Vancouver local market. It’s the homes and families around here,” says the chef. “All of that is key to making this successful, so we’ve gone after the local market — and when I say the local market, we’re approachable, and we’re sensible, and part of the community. It’s very important to us to be a part of the community.”
From grab-and-go lunch boxes to a tea and whisky lounge, the spectrum of culinary offerings is incredibly impressive. Canteenwalla and his team have gone to great lengths to ensure their portrayal of Vancouver’s food scene is not only locally authentic and representative of the province’s tastes, but that it’s also able to compete with the ruthless demands of the international market. “We wanted to make our restaurants, bars, and lounges approachable to everyone by offering a wide range of different price points, environments, and cuisine styles throughout the properties. Each restaurant, bar, and lounge connects back to the Vancouver community in its own unique way.”
Honey Salt is the best example of Parq’s portrayal of its true local roots. “At Honey Salt, we feature as many of BC’s regionally produced ingredients as possible to showcase the bounty of the area,” explains Canteenwalla. “It’s meant to be approachable. It’s also BC local. Farmers, foragers, fish — all those things. Having said that, you’ve got to have fun with it. You’ve got to have some passion with it.”
It’s a warm environment, filled with clarity and vitality, without any ego or attitude. I could see myself having brunch on a weekend, starting my day with one of the juices or nourishing egg dishes, in a relaxed sitting filled with natural light and luminous colors.
For lunch or dinner, even salads like “The Harvest” are presented as a visually striking and vibrant display of amazingly fresh local produce. It’s a simple, and above all, successful start to the meal. “We’ve used vegetables from a number of different farmers,” explains Canteenwalla. “We took a fresh, raw product, like a crudité, we took the pickling, we took roasting, and we took puréeing, and the juice of the vegetables. And we grew it all from there. It’s about local product, and something that you’d be able to nibble on, and start on.”
While there’s an abundance of creative dishes that all do a brilliant job showcasing local, quality ingredients, one dish in particular stands out as seriously memorable: the seafood chowder. A wondrous medley of local seafood includes mussels from Salt Spring, fresh sidestripe prawns and sits alongside creamy potato, mouthwatering Two Rivers honey, and maple-smoked bacon so lusciously sweet and chewy that I could eat a plateful, if I’m being honest. All of this is centered by a perfectly cooked piece of flavorsome local black cod, before being drenched by a rich and wholesome chowder broth. It’s not the most traditional chowder by any means, but by gosh, it’s spectacular. The broth alone is one of the most delectable spoonfuls of creamy and lavish seafood flavors you could ever assemble — perfect for those chilly Vancouver nights. As Canteenwalla puts it, “It’s just a friendly, inviting dish, and something you could put your arms around.”
“MRKT East is where I would eat lunch — every day if I could,” laughs Canteenwalla. And honestly, I’m with him. Inspired by his time working in Asia and his experiences with the Singaporean night markets, MRKT East is a tasty melting pot of Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Singaporean, and Vietnamese cuisines. I’m blown away by the labor-intensive setup — a plethora of staff operate various sizzling hot woks at flaming stoves, tend to succulent meats in authentic tandoori ovens, and expertly chop up barbecue duck. It’s a frenzy of sights and sounds, and every inch of this open-dining experience encapsulates the energy and intensity of an iconic Asian street food scene.
Most importantly, I’m overwhelmed by the authenticity of the food produced at MRKT East. The chicken satay is tender and smokey. Perfectly marinated chicken thigh is grilled on skewers with the right amount of rustic char, and its simplicity is scrumptiously charming. The abundance of dumplings, dim sum, and steamed buns are cooked fresh, with that credible, initially firm bite into the dumpling skin that anyone who has lived in Asia will appreciate. The prawn har gow is wonderfully flavorsome, with its tender meat encased in a shimmering white skin that doesn’t suffer from the all-too-common rubbery texture. Dining further west, the chicken tikka is superbly rich and spicy, with the right amount of heat. And, notably, all dishes are rather affordable. It’s Parq’s most approachable price point, and as Canteenwalla says, it’s the type of food that the locals want to come in and eat. His favorite dish at MRKT East? “The nasi goreng,” he says with a smile. “What I love about it are all the different elements. From the chips, to the satay, to the fried shallots, the egg — all of it.”