Feb 26, 2010 3:15:01 PM
Lonely Planet at the Games – Day 15: Eating the Olympics
I’ve scoffed sausages at Saxony House, chomped chocolate at the House of Switzerland and crammed a crepe or two at the Place de la Francophonie. And then there’s the beer – that even more important food group – which I’ve merrily quaffed in medal-winning quantities throughout the Games. (I’m staying in training, just in case it becomes an Olympic event).
But with just a couple of days left before the five rings roll out of Vancouver for good, there are still some food and libation hotspots luring my ever-inquisitive taste buds. They’re the places that visitors and locals have been telling me to try before I let my feverish Olympic appetite rest.
First up is the Maison du Quebec, an anonymous-looking white box tent across from the busy Molson Canadian Hockey House on False Creek’s windswept waterfront. Sliding through what I think is the entrance – there’s no tell-tale line-up, so I can’t be sure – I turn a corner to find a hopping little al fresco bar facing a stage that cranks to life with shows every night.
Today, though, everyone is watching hockey on the TV screens and the bar – it has the feel of a chatty marquee at a French country fair – is comfortably packed. Much smaller than the cavernous, boozy beer tents of some houses, there’s a cozy, bistro feel here. It’s an approach echoed on the highly civilized menu.
Unlike the uninspired drinks lists at some pavilions – “Would you like a Molson Canadian or a Molson Canadian?” – Quebec fans can sip from six wines, four microbrewed beers or tackle the four-tipple liqueur and brandy roster. I went for a nicely-warming Le Face Cachee ice cider, coupling it with an artisanal cheese plate of three regional treats: a mild and buttery le douanier; a creamy tomme de grosse ile; and an award-winning, organic Alfred de Fermier hard cheese with a delightful nutty aftertaste.
“Poutine [fries topped with gravy and cheese curds] has been everyone’s favourite,” my server tells me, “but the cheese plates have been very popular with couples.” Which I think is her way of telling me I’m eating enough for two people. As I cram the final chunk of earthy, pungent goodness into my mouth, it’s hard to disagree.
It’s a 10-minute stroll from here to what is one of the Games’ most intriguing dining experiences. Occupying possibly the city’s most attractive Olympic house, the wood-built, totem-fronted Aboriginal Pavilion has a hidden restaurant area at the back where you can sample an ever-changing roster of fusion First Nations treats.
On my visit, I tuck into a shareable – okay, I ate it all myself – birch wood platter of mini bites including a crispy crab cake, rice and cranberry-wrapped in filo, a delectable slice of wild trout and a clutch of sweet, donut-style bannock breads. But the highlight is a steaming bowl of gumbo-esque partridge and wild rice soup. I’ve had a heavy cold for much of the Games, and this zesty broth acts like a restorative tonic.
Following my feast, I weave back to False Creek for an end-of-day libation. While the Molson Hockey House has managed to lure many to its cavernous corporate beer tent, despite a $99 entry charge (which includes a gratis buffet but doesn’t include drinks), I’ve been told that a nearby free-entry experience is even better.
After queuing for just 10 minutes in the light rain, I stumble into the Saskatchewan Pavilion’s giant beer tent, quickly discovering that this is the Games’ hidden gem hangout. There’s live music every hour or so on the main stage, but the best reason to come here is the convivial, chill-out vibe.
And while you’ll still be drinking Molson brews here, you can pretend to be your dad by quaffing frothy cups of the determinedly unhip Old Pilsner brand. Food-wise, everything is under $10 and there’s a focus on hardy prairie town fare like perogies and bison burgers. Although I’m full, I nibble on a tasty Saskatoon berry tart to keep my beer company.
These Games may be nearly over but I’ll be carrying around a few souvenir pounds to remember them for some time to come.