It’s been a long time coming, but the new steakhouse from Toptable Group (see also CinCin, Blue Water Cafe, West, Thierry, Il Caminetto, Bar Oso, Araxi) is finally beginning to take shape in the old Milestones address in Yaletown.
The first thing I’d like to point out is that it’s not going to be called “Yaletown Steakhouse”, which is a relief considering the company’s long track record of opening establishments with interesting or otherwise unique names. I don’t know what it’s going to be called when it finally opens this Autumn, and neither does Toptable president Michael Doyle, who showed me around the 6,800 sqft construction site last month. “It’s still a work in progress,” he said. “You’ll know when we do.”
Toptable actually bought 1109 Hamilton St. over two years ago, letting down-market Milestones run out the clock at the corner location opposite Blue Water Cafe before getting to work. The goal, so I’m told, is to reinvent the steakhouse. We’ve seen this attempted before. In Yaletown, too. (You might recall an obnoxious, short-lived disaster called Pinkys, the demise of which I blamed at the time on their inability to properly employ an apostrophe.) But this is different. How? As it often the case in the restaurant business, it boils down to talent, money, and a track record of properly utilizing both. I don’t know much about money because I have very little of it, but it’s been regularly reported that the Aquilini family has plenty, like a few billion dollars. As for talent, Toptable has been a magnet for decades.
Joining Doyle and I on a walk-through of the space was Executive Chef Andrew Richardson. You may have seen him in action in recent years at CinCin, toiling in the open kitchen and working the aromatic flames of the venerable Mediterranean restaurant’s wood-fired Grillworks Infierno. On his team will be his Chef de Cuisine Yvan Burkhalter, Sous Chef Alex Hon of West, and Pastry Chef Rosalynn Vu, recently arrived from San Francisco’s modern Vietnamese restaurant, Slanted Door. Their open galley kitchen will be the stuff of dreams with all the bells and whistles when it’s finished. It was coming together nicely on my visit, a slot for a brand new model of Infierno awaiting installation on the port side.
Also present that day was Restaurant Director Ricardo Ferreira, lately of L’Abattoir but no stranger to the Toptable fold, having previously worked a decade between CinCin and Blue Water Cafe. Joining him in the front of house will be award-winning bartender Katie Ingram (also ex-L’Abattoir) and Wine Director Franco Michienzi, formerly of Hawksworth. Put that front together with that back and you have a tremendous amount of experience and capability. They’ll need it, too, as the highly anticipated restaurant – the first full-service spot from Toptable to open in Vancouver in 18 years – will very likely be ridiculously busy from the start, seating some 150 eager people in the dining room, another 16 in the lounge and a further 34 on the patio.
Money can also buy good design. For the aesthetic here, Toptable has tapped New York’s award-winning Rockwell Group, a 250-person interdisciplinary architecture and design firm that consistently leaves stunning restaurants in its creative wake. From what the team said during my visit, the interior – anchored by the original wood beams and black steel supports – will see a lot of natural wood with blue tile work, cream-coloured leather and burnished browns and oranges throughout. I’ve seen renderings of the interior (I’ve shared one above), but I can’t wait to see the real thing, especially the bar, which will be long and topped with live-edge walnut.
Money can also buy high quality ingredients. We can expect the steakhouse to be sourcing the best cuts of beef from suppliers around the world, in addition to sustainable seafoods and local produce. Signature dishes will include Smoked Bison Tartare (among others, as the restaurant will have its very own tartare/charcuterie bar), Wood Grilled Vegetable Salad, Grilled Nova Scotia Lobster, and Tomahawk Steak. At the bar, Ingram will launch her program with a deep selection of whiskies, agave spirits and Amari, while Michienzi’s list and display cellar – a glassed-in jewel box situated conveniently next to the bar – will hold over 6,000 bottles of wine.
So yeah, it’s not your average start-up situation. As to whether or not its a reinvention remains to be seen, but I hope to sneak in again a couple more times before opening day, which Doyle expects to be in October. I’ve asked if I can visit when they literally fire up the new Infierno for the first time. If that works out I’ll be reporting back soon (hopefully with a name, too). In the meantime, take a look inside at the work in progress…