The Vancouver Lexicon – our A-Z dictionary of local slang, myths, legends, and such – might appear to be complete, but we mean to keep adding to it every week. Today we aim to highlight five more localisms that everyone in British Columbia should know about, that is if they don’t already. They are Gasclown, Tip Boner, Drizzlepiss, Guilt Pylon, and Citidiot.
by Andrew Morrison | Maxime Bettili and Julien Aubin’s highly anticipated Au Comptoir is getting close – really close – to opening day. They’ve got a few more hoops to jump through as well as a couple of friends and family runs, but if there are no major hiccups their French eatery at 2287 West4th in Kitsilano will open for its first service next Friday (October 24th).
As you may recall from when Scout broke the news of Au Comptoir’s coming back in July, Bettili and Aubin are old friends. They met at hospitality school in France 17 years ago and have worked at restaurants such as Les Faux Bourgeois, Bistro Pastis, and The Acorn in the five years since they moved to Vancouver. This is their first fling with ownership, and the theme – a morning to evening Paris-style cafe – is close to their hearts. Back in the summer, I wrote of the affinity thusly:
What they have planned for the space is not like most French-themed cafe/bistros one readily comes across here across the pond. They’re going to strive for the same kind of cafe-style service that predominates in Paris, which is to say it’ll be open all day, from morning until night, with no reservations. Such establishments are liberating for customers used to New World protocols. One doesn’t feel rushed or guilty for taking up a table for an hour and a half with a good book and a beer. To French servers, refreshment has no check average, and the pace of a guest’s experience is none of their business. Whether you’re in for a bottle of wine with a steak frites or a cafe au lait with a pain au chocolate at 9am or 9pm, service is service. Of course, only time will tell if Aubin and Bettili will be able to pull off this uniquely ambivalent shoulder-shrugginess. The chasms between Canadian and French tipping traditions and our understandings of what constitutes a “living wage” are tres deep.
I did a walk-through of the space yesterday and I gotta say, I’m really excited for this one. That could be because I miss Paris a lot, but for the most part it’s on account of the look, which is pretty damn convincing, and the menu from chef Daniel McGee (ex-Pidgin), which reads like it belongs in my belly. Think omelette aux fines herbes for breakfast, hardy croque monsieur with frites for lunch, and beef bavette with pommes dauphines for supper.
Like I said, they’re on track for this Friday. Fingers crossed, it will be so. Have a look…
by Andrew Morrison | Readers who follow Scout’s Instagram account might recognise this monster of a breakfast sandwich from Tofino’s recently opened Wolf In The Fog. The toasted bun came layered with egg, cabbage, and a pork sausage disc – all soaked in a salty country-style gravy.
It was scarfed down just a few days ago alongside some over-sized, perfectly seasoned and super crispy tater tots. The plate might seem a little pedestrian for a chef of Nick Nutting’s high caliber (he’s the biggest food nerd of his generation on the Island), but pedigrees are moot on rainy mornings in Tofino. It’s big, hot, delicious, and worth every cent of $12.
Check the place out the next time you make it over to Tofino. It’s got a casual but capable vibe that makes for a fairly accurate embodiment of the town’s hardy and house proud spirit. If I were to try to pin down a comparison in ambience, I’d liken it to the excellent Pointe Restaurant at the nearby Wickaninnish Inn (where several of the owners were once employed), only a few weeks after it had been taken over and remodelled by a renegade group of leather-loving surfers who preferred long hair and the hallucinogenic twang of The Allah-Las to staff uniforms and the piped-in sounds of the ocean (yes, they actually do that at The Pointe, and it’s pretty awesome).
I haven’t given the complete dinner menu a good going over yet (I walked in on their first service of a new menu), but everything I tasted was totally on point, including bartender Hailey Pasemko’s evocative Cedar Sour cocktail, which tasted like a really good west coast memory of a campfire gone by. Take a look at some of shots I took of the space below (taken before service).
Tacofino has just opened their new location in Victoria. It’s been pretty awesome to see them grow from just a food truck in Tofino to operations in Vancouver, the Okanagan, and now the capital. We snuck in on opening day and met up with owners Jason Sussman and Kaeli Robinson (and their awesome handful of a daughter, Lenny). They were still waiting on their liquor license, but the kitchen was fully operational. The fish tacos were as good as ever (such a dreamy dual combo of textures and tastes) and the restorative tortilla soup was darker and more complex than the first time we drooled over it years ago in Tofino. Check it out from 11am to 11pm at 787 Fort St. and remember that there’s another location – a big one in Gastown – coming our way soon.
(via) Money quote: “Carrot is designed with you in mind. It’s a seamless experience, meticulously crafted, from beginning to end. It’s not just a vegetable. It’s what a vegetable should be.”
by Andrew Morrison | According to a poll that’s been running on our Gastown and Commercial Drive pages (included below), Scout readers are currently tipping Campagnolo Upstairs‘ so-called “Dirty Burger” as the best burger in the city; that is to say better than the celebrated ones available at Hawksworth, Pourhouse, Cannibal Cafe, The Oakwood, and Mamie Taylor’s. It has actually garnered 25% of all votes at the time of writing, so it’s clear that they’re doing something right.
But what, exactly?
It starts with an irregularly-shaped, housemade scotch bap bun. It’s a butt-ugly thing. There are no sesame seeds or buttery topside sheen, and it looks like it’s been splayed open by palsied chimp armed only with a rusty can opener. And yet, griddled as it is with a sexy lard/butter combination (its evenly crisped nethers then seasoned with salt and pepper), it’s enough to make any British fried bread fetishist blush. And lathered with an impactfully sweet-salty house sauce (secret) and stacked with crisp iceberg lettuce, two tomato slices from Kelowna’s Stoney Paradise farms, and whisper thin coins of housemade pickles, no one will ever care that beauty was a test the bun never thought to take.
The patty is equally unprepossessing. Vaguely circular, it appears to have landed on the bun having been dropped from an enormous height. It’s also downright puny at a mere 4oz, but size considerations are a fool’s quibble; it’s the quality that counts, and in this case it’s wholly indisputable. The patties are made from 40 day dry-aged prime beef neck that’s seam butchered and ground fresh every day. And the buck stops with owner/chef Robert Belcham, who is to meat what Rob Clark is to fish, which is to say oddly – though professionally – preoccupied. I don’t think Belcham could make a bad burger if he tried.
Each visually unassuming, misshapen, diamond-in-the-rough patty is fried to order on high heat in a cast iron pan laced with lard. Diced onions are smashed into the disc as it sizzles and browns on one side, and then blanketed with bright American cheese after it’s flipped to the other side. Its orange glisten mesmerizes.
There’s also a secret menu of add-ons to the burger, but I’ve been asked not to publish these. “You can always bribe the bartender to find out what they are,” Belcham chirps.
Altogether, the thing is entirely manageable in the hand; the bun and the sauce get along well enough to postpone disintegration, and the flavours and textures of the fixings meld with the superbly delicious taste of the cheese-draped meat. I like to think of it as the Willem Dafoe of burgers. It might be a little creepy looking and small, but man…is it ever talented (and it was something of a petty crime that his dope-smoking, morally-centred Sgt. Elias in Platoon lost the Best Supporting Actor nod to Michael Caine at the Academy Awards in 1986. I mean, Hannah & Her Sisters? WTF…)
Give it a try yourself, but be sure to go early. There is a high demand for the thing among those who are aware of it, and a frustratingly meagre supply (maybe 20 a night). Indeed, the only truly dirty thing about the Dirty Burger is that you might arrive to find that there are none to be had. It’s happened to me before, and it’s an awful thing indeed.
1020 Main St. (door on the right) | Vancouver, BC | 604-484-6018 | 6pm-late, Mon-Sat
by Andrew Morrison | The UBC location of Biercraft, brought to us by the same folks behind Bomber Brewing and the two pre-existing locations of Biercraft (Cambie Village, The Drive), is getting closer to opening day. They had originally envisioned having the job done by August, but that was not to be. On my recent poke around the building at 3340 Shrum Lane, it was clear that they were in fastening/fixture mode — a good sign. They’re only a couple of weeks away from welcoming their first guests.
Modernity-meets-medieval motifs run throughout the joint. Think false abbey walls and stained glass suspended above the long bar, banquet hall chandeliers, retractable garage door frontage, elevated flat screen TVs, et cetera. It’s kind of odd, but no more so than their previous locations, which both come across naturally enough. The big difference between the first two and this one is the size. The place is huge. When it’s open, they’ll be serving up to 90 people in the lounge area and another 30 at the bar, plus 42 in the dining room and another 90 on the patio.
Though I wasn’t told this outright (and so I could be wrong), I suspect the menu won’t deviate much from Biercraft’s reliable comfort food norm. The beer bar will sport some 32 taps, plus an 80-something Belgium-focused bottle list.
October 20th is their new D-Day. From that day forward they expect to be open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week, plus brunch on weekends. Take a look…
The new location of Meat & Bread just opened at 721 Yates Street in Victoria. To be exact, it’s on the main floor of the old Churchill Building just east of Douglas, next door to The Patch. Knowing that designer Craig Stanghetta (see also Blacktail Florist, Pidgin, and the original Meat & Bread) and the killer brand identity folks at Glasfurd & Walker were on board for the project has had us stoked to check it out. Well, that and the menu. The new spot might add the company’s signature porchetta sandwiches to city’s lunch options, but we’re especially looking forward to trying the new Jerk Chicken sandwich that’s special to the shop, much like the meatball option is special to the Cambie St. location. This sucker comes loaded with jicama cabbage slaw, pickled red onion, and cilantro lime aioli. Ever since we saw them testing it out here in Vancouver, we’ve really want to sink our teeth into that action. The photos above and below were taken during the friends and family night, and were kindly supplied by Aren and Phoebe of Glasfurd & Walker. It looks great, but we bet it smells even better. We’re headed over shortly, so expect some food shots to follow soon.
These are the things we saw and shared on Instagram this month. Favourite moments from the road include camping at Diamond Lake and Big Sur, exploring the rim of Crater Lake, being dwarfed by Coastal Redwood trees in California’s Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and watching whales (Humpbacks) feed off the coast of Carmel. Closer to home, we dug the new brunch program at Bestie, the gyozas at the newly opened Gyoza Bar, and returning to Bufala for one of our favourite pies on the planet — their disc of ham, pea, taleggio and truffle oil. Plus the rain. Always the rain!
by Andrew Morrison | Rachel Chen, who owns the little Perks cafe at 39 East Pender in Chinatown, has agreed to take over the Ovaltine Cafe at 291 East Hastings from the current owner, an old family friend.
The Ovaltine, as you’re very likely aware, is one of the most iconic diners in the city. It has stood as a beacon of continuity on the Downtown Eastside since 1942. Conversations about the eatery these days seldom dwell on its grilled cheese sandwiches and hot coffee, focusing instead on either the lasting beauty of its facade (with its competing horizontal and vertical neon signs) or the likelihood of it being able to stick around much longer in this new age of greed/opportunity on the DTES.
The neighbourhood is for sale, it seems, and as we’ve seen especially of late, preservation is evidently not Vancouver’s official strong suit. Worry that the Ovaltine might be demolished to make way for cheesy condominiums or be replaced with a new restaurant that was somehow inappropriate for the area (say, a foie gras and leather bar) has been in the back and fore of many local heads. In Scout’s irreverent dictionary, the Vancouver Lexicon, the cafe’s own entry offers the following as its usage in speech: “I’m taking bets on how long the Ovaltine will last…”. The angst continued in a recent Vancouver Courier article:
[Local historian John] Atkin worries about the Ovaltine’s chances for survival with scant customers and low-priced fare. Diminished evening hours mean customers no longer see neon reflected down the long counter, but he doesn’t want the cafe “hipsterized” and serving craft beer.
Invoking the dreaded hipster/craft beer nexus is merely another way of employing the G-Word without actually saying it. Gentrification cometh, but in the case of the Ovaltine, it looks like Atkin needn’t worry too much. Rachel and her mother Grace aren’t going to be doing much to the place except give it a good clean, a lick of paint, and a menu makeover that might make it busy again.
It certainly deserves the love. The place has been through the ringer in recent years. And when it hasn’t been serving its regulars – some of whom can measure their patronage in decades – it’s been starring in countless TV shows and even a blockbuster or two. The building itself – a four-storey Edwardian Italian Renaissance Revival pile housing the Afton Hotel – was put together some 102 years ago. The cafe may have given the property a quaint Rockwellian coffee counter, varnished wood panelling, worn cloisters, and smoky mirrors, but the address kept other restaurants before it, not to mention a tailor’s shop, government offices, apartments, even a postal substation. It’s definitely got as much history as it does personality.
And so does Grace, who is something of a legend on the DTES. She used to own the diner at Save On Meats. She took it over in 1999, long before it was reimagined by restaurateur Mark Brand in 2011. Grace gave Rachel her start in the business when she was 11. The youngster would pull shifts after school and on the weekends, both serving and cooking; enduring Welfare Wednesday rushes with her mom and grandmother by the time she was 15.
Needless to say, Rachel and Grace will be drawing on their Save On Meats experiences and repertoire for the Ovaltine Cafe’s new menu, offering up things like root beer pulled pork, fully loaded 1/2 lb bacon cheeseburgers, and fish and chips using the old recipe from The Only Seafood, which still lies beautifully dormant a couple blocks east (the last owner is a friend of the family, too). I asked Rachel what such a burger with all the fixings might cost, and she quoted me $7 with fries, which is about as much a Big Mac meal goes for these days.
Oh, and did you know that the Ovaltine Cafe was sitting on a full liquor license? True story. And Rachel aims to take advantage of it. Will we see them selling local craft beer? Most probably. Will there be hipsters in attendance? It’s guaranteed. But neither of those apparent detriments should prove obstacles enough to dampen what Atkin was hoping for in the broader scheme of things. From the same Courier piece:
Atkin hopes the Downtown Eastside will morph into a neighbourhood that includes healthy businesses, old and new, alongside affordable housing, service organizations, artists and cultural venues. “If this neighbourhood continues to evolve and returns to what it was in 1978, that’s the perfect balance because you had the hotels serving a certain type of clientele — now you’ve got a ton of social housing here — but you had vibrant and viable retail and you had a slight edge to the neighbourhood,” he said.
I’m glad to see that The Ovaltine will remain, craft beer or no craft beer, and regardless of the maintenance of the neighbourhood’s “slight edge”. That it will continue on much as it had before with new, proven owners (who are very familiar with what area residents view as value for dollar) is a great development.
As far as a timeline is concerned, the Chens take possession of the space early next week. The current cooking regime will be maintained as things get organised, adjusted, and primed (a few days), and then they will briefly shut it down for cleaning, painting, and reopening. The plan is to launch before September is through – same decor, same signage, same name – refreshed and ready, one hopes, for another 72 years. Long live the Ovaltine!
by Andrew Morrison | The highly anticipated Gyoza Bar – a new 80 seater at 622 West Pender St. – is set to open for its first service this Saturday. The restaurant, which comes to us via Seigo Nakamura (owner of Miku and Minami), underwent staff training/tasting last night and is headed for a “friends and family” dry run this evening.
I took a look inside last night as the staff were eating their way through the menu. There was a great energy in the space with all the opening hires getting to know one another over a shared, educational supper as GM Nicola Turner and corporate chef Kazuya Matsuoka guiding their chopsticks.
It’s an awesome-looking menu, and the few bites I managed made an impact. When you eventually go for the first time, set aside your gyoza cravings for a moment and aim for the chicken shio ramen. The broth is like an umami sauna, plus they sous vide the meat so it’s wicked tender. Bonus: the noodles, prepped in house, are insanely good.
Check out the menus in the images below and let the drooling commence. You have until Saturday…
by Andrew Morrison | There’s a lot of potential for eating and drinking around Olympic Village. I say “potential” because despite a willing and eager resident market of hungry and thirsty would-be participants, the emerging neighbourhood has yet to be properly served. The two behemoth eateries that dominate the area – namely Tap & Barrel and Craft Beer Market – don’t interest me in the slightest. They’re fine for game nights with chicken wings and such, but the deficit they run in personality is hard to build a community around, and that’s exactly the job new restaurants need to do hereabouts. So there’s room enough for newcomers.
First up: Steel Toad, a new brewpub opening later this month. Located in the old 1918 steel foundry at 97 East 2nd Avenue between Ontario & Quebec, it’s almost as big as the others, boasting 175 liquor primary seats on the main floor, 40 seats on the patio, and an 80 seat dining room on the lofty mezzanine. Though it will share a beery focus not unlike its larger neighbours, Steel Toad comes complete with its own resident brewmaster, Chris Charron, who will be crafting seven (maybe eight) different beers on site (think Golden Ales, English Bitters, Stouts, Saisons, et cetera) to augment a beer list put together by accredited cicerone Jessica Sharpe (formerly of Barvolo in Toronto).
As far as environment is concerned, the place feels just as vast as its neighbours, but instead of a battery of television screens turning evenings into blue light fiestas of Sportsnet zombieness, I’m told that Steel Toad will drop down a single 19′ screen on game nights only, preferring instead to focus on live entertainment. Remember that?
But most importantly, I fully expect the food to be significantly better than what we’ve seen so far from the big chains nearby. The chef is the young (37) and talented Robbie Robinson, who comes to the project – his big executive break – after years spent toiling at The Smoking Dog, The Vancouver Club, the Wedgewood, Le Crocodile, Claridges in London, and West (during the tenure of David Hawksworth). The menu reads well enough – a mix of pizzas, modified pub classics, and off-grid unusual suspects (eg. foie carpaccio, pork neck hoagie) – but it’s the execution that counts. Robinson says he’s ready to go, and I believe him. I just hope he has a good, reliable crew of cooks to back him up, because this place is going to be busy from day 1.
Its the brainchild of Fadi Eid, who has been working on the project since April with designer Adrienne Kavanagh. Eid comes to Vancouver from Lebanon by way of Abu Dhabi. The hospitality management grad has been working in the trade since his teens, having gotten his start toiling in his uncle’s bakery (of late he’s been working front of house for the Fairmont).
The restaurant’s communal, casual concept will see home-style Lebanese food served in sharable “mezze” fashion (eg. falafel, labneh, mjadra, makanik), with equal focus paid to flat breads (“saj”), traditional stews, and a variety of flavoured humus and dips (eg. beet, avocado-cilantro, etc.). The latter will also be sold in branded jars that customers can re-use by bringing them back for refills at a discounted price. The restaurant’s flat bread, flavoured olive oilsm and spices will also be retailed. You can read a draft of the menu here. Lunch will change daily, but the dinner card will be more or less fixed.
To pair with the food, the short bar will be serving local beer and wine, as well as cocktails employing Mediterranean herbs and Levantine spices.
I’ve included Kavanagh’s design renderings with the image set below. The models make it look super clean and modern, but she’s found some cool pieces at Scott Landon Antiques to give the 32 seat space some character, and you never know what an open kitchen can do to the feel of a place when it pumps out the intoxicating aromas of exotic spices and freshly baked breads.
Opening day at Jamjar (2280 Commercial Drive) is set for the end of September.
by Chuck Hallett & Andrew Morrison | There’s a reason breweries are located in industrial districts. Brewing beer is, at its heart, a result of light industry. It’s a chemical manufacturing process what converts a standard set of input ingredients (barley, hops, yeast and water) into an end product. It differs from producing wood pulp only slightly, and most of that is because the end product is that magical elixir we call beer.
Smaller breweries often play down the technical aspects of beer production simply because they can. Polished concrete countertops and wood-panelled tasting rooms are sexier than the industrial patchwork of tanks, pipes and coolant they conceal.
Once you bust past a certain size, though, the process of actually making beer takes centre stage, as well it should. This is the case with Mount Pleasant’s newest craft brewery: Red Truck. The company has expanded out of their 3,600 hectolitre micro-brewery on the North Shore and into a 40,000sf, 25,000hl facility directly on the spot where the old Brewery Creek emptied into the now-filled False Creek Flats. The added capacity is already allowing them to crank out a steady stream of packaged lager, IPA and pale ale, along with (soon) the odd limited bomber release of something more interesting.
This is a cavernous warehouse of a brewery, with a forest of gleaming 2 storey tall fermenters dotting the snazzily tiled floor. Piping interconnects and steel cat walks criss cross left and right, and a control station on a 2nd floor outcrop monitors the whole operation like it’s some sort of fermentation DJ booth.
Capping off the whole operation is a fully restored vintage red delivery truck, which is suspended from cables above the heads of the workers below. Waxing and washing it is a task that will presumably fall to the interns.
Still to come on the sunny south-side of the building is a retail kiosk and growler station, plus the highly anticipated 70 seat old school Red Truck Stop diner, which will serve burgers, hot dogs, wings, liquor and plenty of booze in addition to beer. Bonus: a sun-drenched 40 sat patio — a feature not allowed under the more popular Brewery Lounge license.
The numbers above might seem huge but in reality they really aren’t. The 60hl brewhouse is the next logical step for a growing craft brewery, and a 25,000hl/year production target doesn’t even crack the top five list for BC. For comparison, Deschutes Brewing in Oregon’s annual production is just about 750,000hl, proving it is possible to make delicious beer in large quantities.
As mentioned up top and made evident in the images below, the brewery is already making beer. They’ve had their state of the art bottling and packaging line whirring, plus the machine that goes bing has gone bing. There’s not that much left on site to do save for cladding the building’s exterior, finishing/furnishing some of the offices and conference rooms (installing AV, etc), and giving the whole thing a good once over with a broom and a hose.
It’s more complicated than that, of course, but you get the point. They’re close. Hours aren’t yet set in stone, but 10am to 10pm might be right. We’re crossing our fingers for it to be part of our lives by Christmas or New Years.
* Correction: the draft published yesterday stated that Red Truck was owned by the Mark James Group. This was incorrect and we apologise for the error.