by Andrew Morrison | Chef JC Poirier, co-owner of Pourhouse, Pizzeria Farina and Ask For Luigi, is opening a new restaurant next year in Japantown/Railtown. Located in the old Big Lou’s Butcher Shop address at 269 Powell St. (northwest corner of Gore St.), the 40-45 seater will be called ‘St. Lawrence’. The name references the river and the region where he was born and raised in Quebec.
I met with Poirier last week at a Chinatown coffee shop to discuss the project. The food, he explained, would be deeply personal, an honest representation of his love and appreciation of his origins. “I was born in St. Jerome and raised in Montreal, Quebec City, Hull; my grandparents had a cottage on the river…” he said. “The food was French but on steroids, playing by the rules of French cooking but also breaking them, amplifying traditional French flavours but embracing local ingredients.”
The chef wants to strike that balance for the restaurant, but says the kitchen won’t work to a formula: “I don’t want to call it French or Québécois. St. Lawrence will be a reflection of myself and the things I like.” At the same time, however, he wants diners to feel transported by the experience. I can’t imagine them ending up in their imaginations anywhere but Quebec or France, which make it sound damn good.
I was lucky enough to spend some time in Quebec City over the summer and ate at some fantastic little restaurants (eg. L’Affaire est Ketchup, Le Pied Bleu, Patente & Machin), so I’m pretty well sold on the idea. If I’m reading it right, we can expect a highly idiosyncratic and harkening eatery, one that exceeds ‘bistro’ in invention and complexity but doesn’t deal in pretension. What’s more, Poirier says the kitchen will be old school. “We will be cooking with an oven, not a bag.” he quips, alluding to newfangled practices like sous vide. “There will be lots of pastry, lots of proper sauces…let’s just say that: very saucy.” he adds.
As far as the menu goes, he’s thinking six starters, six mains, four sides, and five desserts. The chef de cuisine is going to be Ashley Kurtz, one of the founders of local chef collective Elementa. The sous chef is Johnny Schaller, a six year Pourhouse veteran. We can expect a small bar offering a 100% French wine list, a mix of Quebec and local brews, and some Japanese whiskies as a nod to the building’s long history as the Komura Store, which was an anchor of Japantown until it forced to close during the Second World War (the name “Komura” is still set in an entranceway mosaic). Running the bar and hospitality program will be Chambar veteran Yacine Sylla, a great guy and a Frenchman to boot (he was raised just outside Paris).
Threading the needle on the design front will be Craig Stanghetta, Katie Dolphin and Jessica MacDonaldSte. Marie – the same company responsible for the looks of many popular Vancouver establishments (eg. Savio Volpe, L’Abattoir, Ask For Luigi, PiDGiN, etc). The branding is in the hands of Glasfurd & Walker, a duo that’s been seemingly conjoined with Ste.Marie since its start.
As of yet I don’t know anything about the interior other than that it’s going to be a big job. It’s been a colossal task already, requiring everything from new gas lines and venting to structural work, not to mention a complicated swap from retail designation to restaurant. Poirier and his partners at Kitchen Table (who incidentally also have another restaurant in the works) take possession of the space this week. They hope to have it open at some point in Spring, 2017.
It goes without saying that St. Lawrence will be one of the most hotly anticipated restaurant openings next year. Vancouverites dig finessed comfort food, and this one comes with a French accent and what I trust will be a very attractive interior made even better by thoughtful branding. Adding to those draws is Poirier himself, a known entity with a proven track record of deliciousness among local food lovers. Look forward to this one, and watch this space…