An Evening of Charitable Decadence at Vancouver Aquarium

The Vancouver Aquarium played buoyant host to Friday evening’s Toast To The Coast. This annual gala, which showcases the bounties of nearby vintners and a glut of the city’s most mouthwatering fare, raises money and awareness for the Aquarium’s conservation and education programs. The charming after-hours setting proved a terrific draw. Amidst the belugas and the crustaceans, swam the chic appetites of over five hundred wine-loving foodies dressed their best and putting their haute-habituated taste buds to the test.

Mirroring my approach to the evening, let’s make certain we get to the food. Some notable participating restaurants included the locally celebrated likes of C Restaurant and The Fish House in Stanley Park, among a dozen other restaurants. Each booth boasted a scrumptious little canapé. Though my favourite was the cheese plate from Benton Brothers, it’s also worth mentioning Provence’s Belizean Prawns (aptly) Provencal, and Oyster Restaurant’s oysters (also aptly) on the half shell, which both were standouts for me. A few chefs offered marvelous meaty treats, such as The Donnelly Group’s hazelnut-topped beef tartare and Tableau Bar Bistro’s duck rillettes. The majority, however, took heed of their surroundings and promoted seafood dishes.

In all of the literature on Toast To The Coast, the Aquarium stresses the sustainability of participating restaurateurs. All fish dishes were ‘Ocean Wise.’ The event originated in large part to promote the Ocean Wise program, which the Aquarium introduced to “educate and empower consumers.” The crux of this lesson: due to irresponsible harvesting practices, many fish populations now confront potential extinction. Key problems include overfishing, bycatch (the removal of unsought species), and habitat degradation. Ocean Wise aims to combat these issues and its logo – found at markets and on menus, ensures environmentally friendly fishing, this was the point of the night’s proceedings. I felt some solace two-biting my albacore tuna mini burger from YEW Restaurant + Bar.

Then, I plunged into a sea of wine.

The coat check attendant reminded me to grab an empty glass as I walked in. “You may need this,” she advised. There were fifteen wineries in attendance offering everything from the driest Sauvignon Blanc to the fullest Cabernet Sauvignon. Sanduz Estate Winery even brought a blueberry port. Oenophiles rejoiced. Spittoons adorned the tables simply as formality. “Pinot noir please…riesling please…may I try the merlot …umm chardonnay…can I get both…red…white…another…” etc. A bit boozy, a thought crept into my head: Vancouver is a VERY fortunate city.

Beautiful women in jewels and dashing men in suits swarmed with smiles and satisfaction. Here they had come by taxicab or limo more than happy to wear their finest clothing and pay almost $100 for entry. They were glad to write their names and numbers down, sometimes more than once, to bid on gift packages being auctioned silently: a ‘me’-day at the spa or a signed Canucks jersey, brunch for two at the best beachside restaurant or sailing lessons. A photo-booth flashed in the corner in some attempt at novelty or nostalgia as the guests instagrammed and tweeted (#tttc) the materializing memories. There was a cosmetics booth suggesting a new nail shade and the hired musicians played quaint jazz(ish) numbers while the staff ensured nobody brought glasses outdoors. The fish were admired, but no more or less than the sommeliers. Laughing, noshing, some MC professing charity and cheerfulness, they all waited in polite line-ups and sipped at tiny champagnes. I wondered what all these people do when they are not attending banquets, blowouts, balls or bonanzas; they all seemed full-time professionals.

It may have been that I was the amateur. (This was my first experience at such an event). There were things I did not know. Sure, the restaurants and wineries won some exposure and I knew that fact much better than I had known the dress code. Facebook profile would now ignite with shots depicting a beautiful gown, a well-heeled date, a heightened life, a good cause, refinement and wealth. I could determine that reality though I didn’t quite know where to set my glass down. Our city’s folk seem to trot tall into each other’s good graces as well as those of the natural landscape surrounding us. They are liked. But we feel the environment’s significance – this is good. We all know Vancouver is a lovely city, even those for whom it’s not so magnificently carefree. Like an oyster’s pearl, our town owes its beauty to the ocean and the hardened shell of labour by which it was created. And, though, yes, a few of its citizens can summon the time and money to show due deference, the rest cannot reap the reputable rewards…

I admit that I had an excellent night, fat and flushed with the (so we hope) sustainable spoils of our generous land. My final hope, however, is that our own generosity— be it to the fish or to our more responsible businesses, and upright as it may be— that it need not excuse us from considering those who will never attend such a sparkly soiree.

I suppose I left with questions and a damp sense of vagueness. Hard to say. Nevertheless, it is certain that The Vancouver Aquarium showed swell and seemly taste in its hosting of this decent event.

Toast to the Coast raised over $100,000 in support of the Vancouver Aquarium’s conservation, research and education programs.