Front of house veteran Dustin Dockendorf and chef Lucais Syme – owners of the award-winning Cinara restaurant and the highly anticipated Autostrada eatery on Main St. – have entered into a partnership with the Arts Club Theatre Company and will start work on transitioning Granville Island’s vast Backstage Lounge (1585 Johnston St.) into a casual Italian restaurant early in the new year.
The new, 4,000 sqft waterfront restaurant will see 120 seats inside with another 45 on the patio. It will be called Vaporetto, after the water taxis of the same name that service the city of Venice. This is, of course, an easy play on the water taxis that service False Creek and moor right outside the restaurant.
From what I understand of the food concept, the menu will loosely follow a Venetian lead with plenty of cicchetti (pronounced “chee-KET-ee”), which is Venice’s answer to Spanish tapas. Think small, snackable share plates like baccalà mantecato, salumi treatments, et cetera. There will also be pizzete, pastas, salads and the like — all supported by local and Italian wine and beer, plus a few simple Italian cocktails.
The food is what excites me most. Lucais Syme is one of the most talented chefs in Vancouver’s Italian milieu — never have I been anything other than totally thrilled by his cooking, especially with the most basic stuff. (I still vividly recall the pleasure of the last risotto I had at Cinara — so dreamy and creamy!) Also of particular note are Dustin Dockendorf’s service chops. I used to work with him in my former life as a server. Though that was 15 years ago (ugh), I remember his excellent service instincts; his default position on everything being positive; and his ability to floor a good team. These are two people who really know what they’re doing. If you want reassurance by way of immediate proof, eat at Cinara as soon as you can.
Rather than enduring the renovation knife, the restaurant’s interior will see a refit instead. Expect a paint job, the old parquet floors restored to their former gloss and glory (they currently look like the insides of a smoker’s lungs), the furniture swapped out, et cetera — nothing structural. If you’ve ever been to the Backstage Lounge before it’s a pretty interesting zone arrangement. Some of these zones will see table service (eg. the patio), while the majority will see counter-service (this approach – together with their no reservations policy – is in line with the goal to keep things casual). These zones have been configured in such a way as to really take advantage of the waterfront views, so I don’t expect the new operators to change this much, if at all.
Of the pitifully few restaurant locations on Vancouver’s many kilometres of seawall and shore, it’s definitely one of the better ones. It’s also directly accessible by water taxi, FTW.
Music fans will be happy to know that live performance is part of Vaporetto’s mandate. There will be a small stage and there will be music. The last day of the Backstage Lounge is being set for January 2nd. Dustin and Lucais expect the facelift to commence the very next day, which is around the same time they hope to open Autostrada. Their hope (and now mine) is to have it open by the middle of February, 2018. The sooner, the better!