Parkside Restaurant To Become Second La Buca

February 5, 2009.

Parkside, one of my favourite restaurants in the city, is going to close at the beginning of March for a minor refit and then reopen as another La Buca at the end of the month. It will have the same menu as the original La Buca on MacDonald (see menu here, some food shots from their Scout page below).

When I first heard the idea I was a little disappointed, but only in a selfish way. I’ve had some memorable meals there over the years (I’ve reviewed it very favourably at least twice), and count it as one of the most romantic restaurants in town. The patio is gorgeous, and the food and drink have always been had at extraordinarily fair price points. But the more I think about it, the more I get it, and the more I get it, the more I like it.

We’re in the midst of a mirage at the moment, and behaving as if the Depression is only going to tickle us in the gentlest of ways. Some restaurateurs I know are being proactive by nimbly maneuvering and up-armouring their businesses with smart marketing, streamlining, and lowering their costs across the board, but many seem to be pretending and hoping. A few are in such depths of denial that they are actually banking on the Olympics of all things. It’s part of their master plan, as if the Games are some far off lucrative Grail that will set things right and afford them the license to sit on their hands and do nothing as the clouds gather. But there’s a reason why Market opened with such affordable prices, and why Deacon’s Corner does at least two full turns every day. The writing is on the wall.

In four years from now (that’s the standard prediction now), as we begin to pick up the pieces from the coming shit storm and start to move our restaurant scene’s ball forward again, I fear many who are only paying the threat lip service will have already shuttered. In my read of the landscape (such as it is), most restaurants that are priced high have about four or five months, maybe less, to alter their message in such a way as to make them at least appear somewhat accessible. After that, I think some of them may find themselves in a spot of genuine bother, with fewer people splurging on nights out. One of my colleagues in the food writing profession recently quipped that there are only so many special occasions these days. Add to this sad fact one that is even sadder, that expense account dining is now clinically dead, and what you get is a recipe for high end doom.

Of course I hope both she and I are wrong.

So yeah, I think owners Chris Stewart and Andrey Durbach (interview) are being prudently pragmatic with this move. I’ve been turned away at the door of La Buca more times than I’ve ever dined there. It’s always stupid busy. And while Parkside, inarguably, is a great restaurant, the West End icon is in the market most under threat (fine dining), and arguably the most competitive. It follows that it is the most vulnerable of Stewart and Durbach’s three rooms (love it though I do), and by making it more accessible and tying it to a brand that has shown itself to be ridiculously successful (bums in seats, cheap prices, awards won, et cetera), they are doing what so few others seem to be doing, and that is taking the deep breath before the plunge.

It took me some time to digest and get my head around, but I see the wisdom in this and take it as good news for diners and sound decision-making by a pair of savvy pros. I love La Buca, and I think the West End will too. It’s a good fit, and certainly a better fit in these piss poor times. And who knows? Once we get through to the other side of this thing, Parkside might reopen in another location. Or maybe we’ll see a micro-chain of La Bucas. With the move, they’re free of their own Sword of Damocles, and much better prepared to weather what is most definitely coming our way.

Of course, today isn’t the end of Parkside. Last call isn’t until the end of the month. They’re doing what looks to be a wickedly good prix fixe for Valentine’s Day (here), and dinner service continues unabated. Those of us who have known and loved it over the years will visit once or twice more to say goodbye, and if you’ve never been before…I don’t know what to say to you.

As for the second coming of La Buca, the end of March can’t come soon enough. It’s the patio I’m looking forward to the most…

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Andrew Morrison is a west coast boy who studied history and classics at the Universities of Cape Town and Toronto after an adolescence spent riding skateboards and working in restaurants. He is the editor of Scout Magazine, the weekly food and restaurant columnist for the Westender newspaper, a contributor to Vancouver and Western Living magazines, and a proud board member of the Chef’s Table Society of BC. He lives and works by the beach in Vancouver.

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