We headed for downtown Vancouver to soak up the Olympics vibe on Valentine’s Day, and what a scene it was. From where we were standing to get a look at the then-imprisoned Olympic cauldron, masses of humanity six-deep and more filled the sidewalks as far as the eye could see.

It was a day for ambling to the various event venues where Olympics-sized lineups caused us to keep walking. A great day in all, but we weren’t sure where we might sit down for a meal on what is normally the busiest restaurant night of the year, since our trip into the city was spur-of-the-moment and didn’t include reservations.

We did end up in Gastown and were early enough to snare one of two remaining tables at a restaurant that had squeezed in extra tables to accommodate the masses. The food was okay, though a little overpriced, and the service excellent, considering how busy the place was.

If you’re planning to head in for the same kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience that includes a nice meal, check out the Globe and Mail’s take on what to go for — and what to avoid — in terms of food, both that at the national and provincial pavilions, restaurants near Olympics event sites and even restaurants and bars where you might spot a celeb or two.

West Restaurant: The Cookbook
By Warren Geraghty
Published by Douglas & McIntyre, 2008 hardcover, $50; 250 pages

West is one of those iconic Vancouver restaurants, similar to Bishop’s, Lumiere and even Vij’s. Each basks in the bright light of its passionate founder and/or head chef and each has added immensely to the glowing reputation this city has gained for its food scene.

That’s why it’s somewhat ironic that former executive chef David Hawksworth  — the man almost single-handedly responsible for West’s meteoric rise to culinary stardom in the nine years it’s been gracing the South Granville area (originally as Ouest) — is not the author. That’s not to say Hawksworth, who is currently busy readying his own restaurant, has been rubbed from the pages of this book, which is under the new executive chef’s name.

He gets credit in both the introductory pages and text for his role in the restaurant’s opening years and for his recipes, but it is clear this is Geraghty’s book. Geraghty hails from Michelin-starred restaurants in London, England so his culinary pedigree is top-notch. But that could spell trouble for the average cook who may not have the time, training or unusual ingredients to pull off a restaurant-class dish. Most high-end restaurant chefs have a fleet of assistants who do all the prep work — and heavy lifting, something the home cook doesn’t always have access to, and their recipes are often complex layerings of ingredients that require prep work as well. So no 30-minute specials when you sign up for one of these puppies.

Still, it’s worth noting that Geraghty has made an effort to include recipes that would be quite doable for the experienced home cook who understands what a bechamel sauce is, has the patience to deepfry parsley for garnish purposes, and has the time to make multiple sub-dishes that eventually end up as one main dish.

West is known for its exquisite use of local ingredients and the book shows why food lovers flock to its tables. They’re there to swoon over ravioli of snails and truffles with sauteed spot prawns and shellfish jus (recipe page 23), or drool over roasted filet of ling cod with spicy braised pork belly and caramelized butternut squash (recipe page 30). They want to consider last meals as they inhale the perfumes wafting from their bowl of aromatic pine mushroom and duck broth bursting with smoked scallops and slicked with black truffle oil (recipe page 143). And who wouldn’t tremble with delight as a lovingly arranged plate of galantine of quail, foie gras and jasmin-poached raisins (recipe page 184) is placed before you.

You may not be able to  find such things as lamb’s tongues, duck fat or yellow foot chanterelle  mushrooms, but substitutions are  always acceptable. In all, there are about 100 recipes, equally divided between starters, mains, desserts and cocktails, and arranged according to the seasons. Each includes wine pairing suggestions and there are also charming little out-takes sprinkled throughout the book that focus on specific ingredients such as rhubarb, squab or pears.

Here’s a lovely little starter that takes a bit of time, but is easy enough to do if you plan ahead.

Seared Scallops with Apricot Puree and Candied Walnuts

3 ½ oz. dried apricots
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 large scallops
1 lemon, halved
3 oz. candied walnuts (recipe follows)
4 oz. Dijon mustard greens, for garnish (or substitute watercress or any other small, intensely flavoured greens)

Place apricots in small pot and cover with water. Simmer for approximately 2 hours until the apricots are completely soft. Remove apricots from water and puree in high-speed blender.

Heat olive oil in small saute pan on high heat. Add scallops and sear 1 to 2 minutes per side until golden brown. Squeeze lemon juice over top.

To serve, in middle of each of four plates, smear a quarter of the apricot puree. Place a scallop to the side of the puree and sprinkle with a quarter of the walnuts around the plate. Finish with a quarter of the mustard greens. Serves 4.

Wine suggestion. Pairs well with unoaked light whites with a bit of sweetness, like a German riesling from the Mosel or an off-dry chenin blanc.

Candied Walnuts

12 oz. walnut wholes or halves, shelled
2/3 cups icing sugar
8 cups vegetable oil for deep frying

This recipe works well with most nuts and is very versatile. Use the walnuts with cheese or in a salad or simply eat them on their own.

Place walnuts in a pot and cover with water. Simmer for 3 minutes, drain and allow to cool. Pour icing sugar over them and thoroughly mix.

In a deep fryer, heat oil to 350F. Add walnuts and fry until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes, then drain and lightly salt. Keep in an airtight container. Makes about 1 lb.

– From West Restaurant: The Cookbook