Parkside Restaurant To Become Second La Buca

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).

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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.

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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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8 Responses to “Parkside Restaurant To Become Second La Buca”

  1. Ben on February 5th, 2009 1:52 pm

    Good luck with the re-launch.

    La Buca and Pied have ranked higher in my books than Parkside, not for quality but because I could go more often!

    My only issue with this is that I wish they launched a new menu/idea since they have done such a good job with it in the past. But as you said this makes sense, will be delicious, and isn’t as risky as a completely new concept.

  2. Captain on February 5th, 2009 2:19 pm

    Bloody terrible news but prudent move on the lads part , I would love to always have Parkside; my favorite at least remain in their capable hands. I am still scatching my head looking at Lumier’s Valentines day menu which is well over a $100.00 , what are they thinking?

  3. Alex Rotherham on February 5th, 2009 2:56 pm

    I’m sure it’s the right move for them, but Parkside was quite possibly my favourite restaurant in Vancouver.

    I will miss it.

  4. Kyle N on February 5th, 2009 5:12 pm

    Disappointing but exciting at the same time.. a few of my most memorable meals have been at parkside, but I too find myself visiting pied and la buca more often than not in recent times. Mainly because the option is there, and I know the quality is going to match that of parksides.

  5. leigh on February 5th, 2009 10:33 pm

    At least they’re not calling it CHanZ as an homage to Obama!!

  6. Michael King on February 7th, 2009 10:53 am

    Our favorite restaurant in Vancouver, by far! Always great service, value and quality. However, if the writing’s on the wall it’s best to change and survive. This way, Maestro Durbach’s amazing cooking will still grace the Vancouver scene. Good luck!

  7. Parkside to Become La Buca 2.0 « The Well-Tempered Chocolatier on February 11th, 2009 9:03 am

    [...] you can add Parkside to that list. Scout Magazine broke the news first, and it came up at last night’s food blogger dinner. Parkside is set to [...]

  8. Gregory Sherwood on August 18th, 2009 11:02 pm

    We and another couple were early adopters at Parkside. We live nearby, walking distance. It became our neighborhood restaurant. The food was fabulous. Chris and Andrey were on-site and the service was outrageously good. We spent several months in this idyllic relationship. One evening, after Chris and Andrey were in expansion mode, we invited some friends to our special “can’t get a bad meal restaurant”, and you guessed it, a mediocre meal with bad service, One bad experience, however, did not deter us. We loved this place and thought this had to be an aberration. Not so. A couple more bad experiences. At our final experience, we took the private room at the back, the place being almost empty at the time. After almost two hours -and several complaints, it became obvious that we were not going to get any food, not even our salads. We walked out the long way right in front of the serving and bar staff and no one cared.

    When the place got re-branded as L’Altro Buca, we tried it again and it was very good. Ok, so now we have hope. So this evening (August 18, 2009) on a somewhat special occasion we try again. After 70 minutes and after an assertive plea, during which time we are more than halfway through our mid- range bottle of wine, we finally get our hors d’ouevre. It was very good. Fifteen minutes later my wife gets her salad. Ten minutes after that, I get mine. By that time we are so frustrated that we tell our waiter, the ever smiling Andrew, to forget our mains, that we’d like our bill. No problem at all says the ever smiling Andrew and away we go. Andrew is a credit to this restaurant and we sincerely feel they are very lucky to have him. He is our new symbol of this restaurant. We especially like his authenticity.

    So I’m glad you are all rhapsodic about this restaurant and I certainly wish you well as you patronize it going forward. We may try La Buca or Pied å Terre again but only under a false name as one of our other theories is that we have offended them, and they they hate us and are taking their sweet time in exacting their revenge,

    Cheers,

    G & P