Long-time Vancouver restaurant industry veterans Dale Styner and Guy Stowell are set to strike out on their own early in the new year. They recently took possession of the old Charlie’s Little Italian (ex-Habit) location at 2610 Main Street. They put paper on the windows yesterday announcing Tocador, their new Cuban-inspired cocktail bar and restaurant. The address is right next door to The Cascade Room, where Dale was a manager for five years before moving to tend bar at The Mackenzie Room and, later, Kissa Tanto in Chinatown. Guy is no stranger to the neighbourhood either, as he’s been running the bar program at Anh & Chi since its launch a couple of years ago (before that he was at Bao Bei). Both Dale and Guy will continue in their positions through the holiday season, so if you’re keen to taste what they do, by all means saddle up.
Tocador will see the space – which has been in the grip of the Cascade/Habit group (see also El Camino’s, The Union) for a dozen years and a few iterations – totally transformed; so much so that the photos above and below will act more of a “before” gallery rather than anything close to what we’ll see when it launches in early 2018. Save for some repositioned and reconstructed chocolate coloured buttoned-down vinyl booths, just about everything will be different. For example, they’re moving the bar from the front of the room to run the depth of the space — some 20 feet, at which they’ll position 14 or 15 stools. To tie in with the name, the back bar will be made of pieces of old dressing room tables — tocadors in Spanish.
On my walk-through yesterday Dale explained that the bar side of the operation will tool some 20 different cocktails, half of which will be original and the other half Cuban classics like Daiquiris, Presidentes, Mojitos, et cetera. Anticipate lots of rum but – I’m told – nothing “tiki”. As far as the food program goes, they want the small, share- and snack-focused menu to be anchored by the Cubano sandwich, an exemplar of which isn’t as easy to find in Vancouver as one would hope (despite plenty of quasi-facsimiles and a few medianoche-style near misses — my personal favourites are at Cacao and, occasionally, Dock Lunch).
As far as I know – and please correct me if I’m wrong – no one in our city does it the classic, Floridian way, which is to say with ham, mojo-marinated pork, swiss cheese, pickles, yellow mustard and lots of butter spread on lardy, crisp-edged Cuban bread that is press-toasted on a hot plancha (the addition of salami is an accepted outlier in Miami).
It is this that excites me most about Tocador. If you’ve ever seen the movie Chef before, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the kind of sandwich that dreams are made of and on a shitty day like today – with a lot more to come between now and January – it’s hugely important to have dreams. (If you want to try and make one at home, Binging With Babish has a droolworthy step-by-step tutorial here.)
Dale wouldn’t tell me who the chef was (he/she is currently on the clock elsewhere), but he said the bread for the Cubanos will very likely be baked in house. I’ve never seen proper Cuban bread commercially baked in Vancouver (again, correct me if I’m wrong), and since the bread is a fundamental facet of the Cubano, the commitment to doing it properly is promising. Cross your fingers they get it right, because if they do we’re all in for a very special treat.