Vancouver is one of my favorite cities in the world and I love to come here frequently. There is no shortage of adjectives to describe the appeal of this place. Some people come for the breathtaking natural surroundings, while others enjoy its relaxing atmosphere and great restaurants. Vancouver is a major city that somehow manages to retain a laid back attitude making it so different from other hectic and fast paced big cities.
While I appreciate all the positive qualities that make Vancouver so attractive, one of the major reasons that compels me to return is the food, particularly Chinese. In my humble opinion, I think that YVR, specially Richmond, is arguably one of the best destination for this type of cuisine in the Western Hemisphere. Its excellence can be explained by the high concentration of skilled chefs that are employed in the many restaurants that cater to a demanding local clientele. Competition is a customer's best friend and this is certainly evident in the restaurant scene here. I have included some places that I ate as a bonus at the end of this report.
For those interested, I will share some statistics about Richmond - 60% of the population is composed of immigrants (the highest in Canada and within this group, 47% are Chinese), 31% Whites, and the rest is composed of other minorities. Blacks, Latin Americans and Arabs make up less than 1% within their respective groups. When I visited this last time, there was a lot of construction of luxury apartments throughout the main business areas and signs were mainly in English and Chinese. It is rare to see the presence of French, Canada's other official language, except for government buildings. One thing that I have noticed is the relative safety of the area. I saw people walking late at 12A or 1A around the main streets without hesitation.
On the day of my trip, I quickly went home after work to do some last minute packing and dropped off the car at the SFO Parking building. I arrived at the airport at about 1 hr. before departure and made the line through security. In 15 minutes I was at the other side and luckily the gate was nearby.
Aircraft at the gate.
There were 3 agents in the podium and they seemed pleasant and professional. Boarding was called and handicapped passengers along with families with small children were welcomed to board first, followed by F and Global passengers in Group 1. Then Group 2 was next which included elite members along with UA Explorer Card holders. Groups 1 & 2 are considered Premier Access while Groups 3-5 are General Boarding.
Walking inside the jetbridge, I was noticed an ad for my destination on the wall. A thought this was a good omen.
This A319 has Wi-Fi.
A FA was positioned at the entrance to greet passengers but when I entered she was going over something with the purser so her attention was not fully directed to the arriving guests. I made my way towards the end of the plane and as I noticed from past experiences, the last two rows lacked overhead bin space because they are used to store aircraft equipment - something very inconvenient and unfair to passengers sitting there. My row is the third or fourth from back to front depending on the version of A319. First impressions of my seat were not good - there were some type of crumbles left on the cushion and the adjacent one. I can't believe that the cleaning crew missed this one. The pitch looked and felt tight. Since when was the pitch on the A319 reduced to a knee crunching 30 or 76.2 in. according to seatguru.com? I guess this enhancement has been silently implemented. On top of that, my seat was dirty.
Take off was a few minutes late and today's flight was going to be about 1:45 in duration. Once we reached cruising altitude, an announcement was made about the distribution of Canadian customs forms telling passengers that up to 4 members of the same family can be included on such form. A FA then walked through the aisle distributing them. One thing that I saw as off putting was the way that she will wet her fingers by lightly touching her tongue to separate the forms.
FA's then rolled out the beverage and BOB cart. Due to the short duration of the flight, only packaged snacks were sold as stated on the back of Hemisphere inflight magazine. Service was very good with lots of smiles from every crew member, which was unexpected. After all, I was flying the worst U.S. airline, according to Airfarewatchdog. In all fairness to UA, the last couple of trips that I took with them have been marked by friendly interaction with crew members and I like the stylish way that they are refurbishing their lounges and terminals.
I purchased a BOB Classic box for USD 7.99 that contained a variety of packaged goods. It's a bit on the expensive side but I decided to try it for the sake of reviewing this product for the benefit of the readers of FR. ;) It is not great value for your money and you are better off purchasing your favorite snacks from a local supermarket before your trip. In this regard I find that partner AC's per-purchased combo deals offer better value.
UA has 3 types of snack boxes, each containing different items. More information can be found here:
There are two WC's in the back, one on the right side behind the last row and the other one in the galley area. I find this arrangement odd and would have preferred the two WC's across from each other avoiding the galley completely.
View of the cabin.
Arrival into YVR was earlier than expected at 19:49 instead of 20:12. YVR airport has one of the most dramatic and impressive Immigration arrivals experiences that I have seen in all my travels. First time visitors are pleasantly surprised when they walk from their gates and descend through the stairs into the Arrivals Hall passing by the big display of Northwest Native art flanked by cascading waters. As travelers descend, they are greeted by two huge totems before proceeding to the Immigration lines.
Sheraton YVR Airport
Decent property strategically located on Westminster Hgwy and close to Road No. 3, Richmond Center mall and several restaurants. For those fans of Starbucks, there is a branch inside the lobby next to Harold's Bistro & Bar (this restaurant is rated #3 out of 643 in Richmond according to TripAdvisor.com) Not bad for being a hotel restaurant. I can't emphasize how convenient this location is within walking distance to major shopping areas and the Skytrain. The Marriott and Hilton are next to this property.
Harold's Bistro & Bar
Room was equipped with a microwave and refrigerator.
I visited a couple of restaurants that did not disappoint. Although some of the dishes might look like from those that one can find at any other Chinese restaurant anywhere else, the reality is that once you take a bite you realize that these dishes were indeed crafted by very skilled hands. Brilliance sometimes masquerades as ordinary. The foods that I sampled, from humble stalls to deluxe establishments, had intriguing textures and revealing flavors. It's not difficult to find a great Chinese meal in Richmond.
This restaurant has several branches throughout Vancouver and the one I visited is located next to the Richmond Center outside the Hudson Bay store. I was impressed by its top notch service and elegant surroundings. I came here for dim sum on a Friday morning without reservation (which is highly recommended) and was seated right away. Everything is ordered from a menu a la carte unlike other more traditional dim sum places. Change of plates were conducted frequently as soon as the server noticed that it was dirty. I also appreciated the thoughtful placement of an extra pot of hot water on the table to refresh the tea pot. It's little details like these that elevate a dining experience and is rarely seen while dining on their U.S. counterparts. More information about this restaurant can be found at http://www.kirinrestaurants.com/
An essential accompaniment for dim sum - hot chili sauce.
Steamed dried scallop with preserved meat and turnip pudding.
Pig's trotters in vinegar sauce.
Steamed chicken and abalone bun.
Meatballs with tangerine peel and herbs on beancurd base. I loved the smooth texture of this dish.
Layered cake with egg yolk and coconut.
Silky tofu pudding with ginger syrup.
Mango pudding with cream.
The regional style is Shanghainese, with its distinctive use of alcohol and sweeter taste compared to traditional Cantonese cuisine. Its interior decor is stylish and contemporary, and I liked the display window in the back with the staff making dumplings and noodles by hand. I enjoyed the food and particularly loved the xiao long bao which were juicy and had a perfect consistency - not too thin or thick.
Cold gluten appetizer with ear mushroom, bamboo slices and nuts.
Pork xiao long bao.
Crab xiao long bao.
Shanghai style handmade noodles with pork chops and vegetables.
Crab soup with bean sprouts and thin hand pulled noodles.
H.K. BBQ Master
A deceptively ordinary stand located in the parking lot of a supermarket that has some of the best Chinese barbecue meats.
Char siu (typically a pig shoulder cut marinated in honey, five-spice powder, dark soy sauce, and sherry or rice wine and then roasted) and roast pork. I was given the option between fatty or lean char siu and I chose the fatty one. The roast pork had a crispy and crunchy skin.
Satisfying roast duck with plump and juicy meat and crispy lacquered skin.
San Francisco - SFO
Vancouver - YVR
I do not have elite status with UA and therefore I had to use the regular line. It took a few minutes to get through security and there was a guy behind asking people if they will allow him to move to the front because his flight was going to leave in 5 minutes. People were understanding and allowed him to proceed to the front.
My row had a tight pitch and being greeted by crumbles on my seat did not give a good impression.
FA's were nice and smiling. I even saw one of them joking with a child.
The BOB was not a good value and UA could have included better snacks like Walker's shortbread cookies or Toblerone chocolate for the price.
Although my flight left a bit late, it arrived earlier, so I gave a 10 for on-time performance.
I will be back to YVR in Sept. because there were still a few restaurants that I wanted to try. :P For my next trip, I will fly UA outbound and AC Rouge on the return. This will be my first experience being rogued, so we will see how it turns out.
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