Right before we broke for Christmas we slipped back into Railtown’s new Ask For Luigi again to double down on what might just be the best meatballs in town. No aggrandizing truffle oil, no knock-off “Kobe” make-believe bullshit. Just some effin’ meatballs. The addition of golden raisins is a nice touch; real proper old school Italian (more accurately: Calabrian/Sicilian). They give the meatballs a sweet subtlety that – together with the dusting of Parmesan – cools the sauce’s pomodoro tang. If you still have room after giving these a try, head to Mamie Taylor’s in Chinatown where chef Tobias Grignon mixes his meatballs with dates and coriander. It’s more of an Algerian style, but it’s still just a plate of ‘effin meatballs.
by Andrew Morrison | If I had not only a guarantee that dinosaurs were genuinely tame but also solid assurances that their breeding was being strictly controlled by heavily-armed paleo-geneticists, I’d be totally OK about having them back to roam in very small numbers.
I feel the same way about steakhouses. The adoration I had for them as a wide-eyed child of limited tastes has insured a residue of affection still powerful enough to bring me back to them at least once a year. And the more traditional they are, the better. I’ll have none of this Pinky’s “Steakhouse for Girls” or Black & Blue discotheque nonsense, thank you very much. I want a 75 year old server named Frank calmly maintaining my table with an economy of words and actions. I also want to bask in the moody darkness. Not the dumb Donnelly style of darkness seemingly designed to shield our senses from seething ugliness, but rather the type on that rare ethereal plane wherein the act of dining amplifies the scant light provided by candles and the occasional wall sconce. Its faint flame is nearly doused by the dark wood panelling but it still dances off the white jackets of the staff, flickers on the linen, and makes the odd bit of brass piping shine like gold. Such a light also lingers on the serrated blades of over-sized steak knives, bathes in the bowls of big Bordeaux wine glasses that need to be washed by hand on account of their vast brittleness, and takes the creepiness out of the ancient oil portraits staring back at you from the walls. Light is a key facet of the old school steakhouse atmosphere, anchoring the experience even more than the sound-deadening carpet or the refreshing absence of hats.
There are only two exemplars of such light in Vancouver, Hy’s Encore and Gotham Steakhouse. I’ve just eaten at both on back to back evenings. I regret that I didn’t take a camera or a notebook to Gotham, preferring instead to dine like a regular human being (just this once). The steaks were first rate – blackened Chicago filets and strips with crab legs and prawns – and the service was superb, but for the purposes of this story I’m only going to relate how things went at Hy’s Encore.
Hy’s, as you know, has been on Hornby St. since the early Cretaceous. Believe it or not, the decor has actually been “updated” from the Arthur Fishman-designed original (1960′s), but it’s as I’ve always remembered it: dark, deathly quiet, and frequented by corporate Ron Swanson types and old codgers wealthy enough to afford especially sharp dental work. The room’s baronial pretension doesn’t feel the least bit Vancouver-y, and I like that. It’s an absolute escape, like something out of Jules Verne. There’s no stylish bartender holding court with plaid pomp and twirled moustache, no ubiquitous soundtrack or desperately obsequious two minute “quality check” that makes you want to throw a punch (“How are the flavours tonight?” Pow!). It’s just ordered effortlessness, the sort of pampering that has mostly gone out of this world, or at least this city.
The food, as you can well imagine, hasn’t changed that much since I was a child. The Caesar salads and Bananas Foster are still made flawlessly a la minute and tableside [6, 3]. All of the ancient standards are there, everything from $17.95 Are You Kidding Me non-spot prawn cocktails  and slightly rubbery, garlic-wombed escargot  to French Onion soup and boozy Mussels Normandy. They even offer 1,000 Island salad dressing! The steaks are still perfect, only now they are even more exorbitantly expensive. My favourite remains the “house special” Gorgonzola Filet, an 8 ouncer done medium rare (I’m a lightweight, I know) topped with a melted knob of hot, fabulously stinky cheese. I always choose the double-stuffed potato as my starch. The distance between it and say, mashed potatoes is similar to the distance between a piece of red liquorice and a whole Black Forest cake. To wit, the kitchen scoops out the innards of a baked potato and then blends the hot stuff with butter and cream before piping it back into the jacket and topping it with sour cream, bacon, and chives. The combo sets you back $44.95, but did I mention the bread! My god, the bread…
I don’t think the kitchen gives a shallot about molecular gastronomy, craft beer, or charcuterie, let alone “local” and “sustainable” sourcing. Sourcing here is a matter of the back end of trucks and clipboards, not relationships with farmers or artisan suppliers. There is no team of whistling foragers combing the woods for mushrooms, and instead of a rooftop herb garden there is a castle parapet from which, one presumes, the staff are tasked with defending the building if ever there comes a rabid horde of abusive vegans.
And please let that be fine for once or twice a year, because steakhouses are woefully endangered. Granted, not all of them need to survive. Just a few, if you please. No one gave a damn when the graveyard-like West Cordova location of Morton’s closed in 2009. Likewise the stillborn Pinky’s chainlet, which just plain sucked hard until it went away. But if Hy’s were ever to fall, there would be no small amount of weeping, for that would be the end of the dinosaurs, and there would be no resurrections.
Hy’s Encore | 637 Hornby Street | Vancouver, BC | 604683-7671 | www.hyssteakhouse.com
Sal y Limon had us wrapped around its finger from day 1. We wish it wasn’t as busy as it is (people call it “the Mexican Stepho’s of the East Side” for good reason), but life goes on. At least the line-ups during peak hours move quickly, and one knows that at the end of it lies good chow and cold bottles of good ‘ol Mexican Coca-Cola (different from Canadian/US Coke in that there’s no high fructose corn syrup). Our favourites include the carnitas tortas (beef sandwich on bolillo roll), the chorizo and cheese-stuffed quesadillas, the addictive house-made potato chips, and pretty much every type of taco they offer from porky al pastor to the zucchini-laced veggie option.
The thing to pounce on whenever it’s available is the tortilla soup (so very rich and restorative). The thing to avoid at all costs is the taquitos dorados, which sound tasty but appear unappetizingly like a pair of artillery shell casings greased up and stuffed heavily with bland potatoes. The thing to explore is the DIY salsa bar, with its options ranging from the gentle to the terrifying. Bonus: the burritos are densely fabulous, and everything is wicked cheap.
701 Kingsway at Fraser | Vancouver, BC | 604-677-4247 | www.salylimon.ca
by Andrew Morrison | I recently tried out Vancouver’s newest pizzeria, Don’t Argue, on the recommendation of Zulu Report columnist Nic Bragg. The 30 seater (estimate) is located at the very beginning of the Riley Park stretch of Main Street, just a couple of doors down from El Camino’s.
It’s on the stark side of charming in more ways than one. To begin with, they make some very good, uncomplicated pies, tossing the dough discs front and center (as you can see above). They don’t go the authentic Neapolitan VPN route, but it’s pretty close. Diners can expect a firmer-than-VPN crust (no immediate floppery) and a gently acidic tomato sting. If I had to pin them locally, they’re more akin to Pizzeria Farina than anywhere else. They use fiore di latte cheese on their Margherita and the basil is “live” on the line. Pizzas come in small (12″), large (18″), and Calzone, but if you’re just feeling a little peckish or flying solo they always have a few slices at the ready. A very limited but adequate selection of beer and wine makes it easy to choose a tumbler of Red Racer or a Sicilian Nero D’Avola for the win. Dessert is a panna cotta, simple but satisfactory.
There’s nothing to really dislike about the place, save for the first timer’s momentary lack of clarity as to whether or not it’s counter or table service (it’s the former). The prices are fair-ish (their Margherita costs a buck more than at Nicli Antica), and if you’re flummoxed because they don’t have a website or a social media program, tough luck. You’ll have to Tweet your dismay to the echo of their indifference.
The overall design leans a little towards the barren, but not in the modern sense. 1930′s is more like it, a la Norman Rockwell. The jukebox of CDs at the rear of the long room is discordant, but only in its ugliness (the tunes, however, are great). I really dig the seamless train station-style bench seating. Seriously, whoever did the joinery on that one deserves a case of beer.
There’s definitely better pizza in Vancouver, but not this far south on Main. Its closest rival would be Barbarella on East Broadway. If I had to choose between them, I’d choose not to.
3240 Main Street | Vancouver, BC | 604) 876-5408 | Tue-Fri 3pm – 11pm | Sat-Sun 1pm – 11pm
by Andrew Morrison | Interesting brunches, and by that I mean ones that go beyond Eggs Benedict and Lumberjack-style samplers, aren’t all that common in Vancouver, and when you find a good option, the old standards start to lose their lustre.
To the short list of these establishments (think Wildebeest, West, Medina), you should add The Farmer’s Apprentice, the still relatively new eatery from David Gunawan and Dara Young at 1529 West 6th (between Fir & Granville). They improve the lazy, late morning ritual – and only on Saturdays – with items like honey-licked burrata with butternut squash preserves on warm sourdough ; savoury parmesan tarts ; thick slices of spiced oh my god pork belly saddled with fried eggs and maple-flavoured oats ; and perfectly poached eggs over grilled radicchio and sunchokes with what-the-hazelnut hollandaise . They also blend good smoothies and juices. Sweetened with apple and zinged with lemon, their tall jar of “green” – loaded with celery, kale, parsley, cucumber – goes down like an electric cure-all .
The menu – as at dinner – changes with every service, so the likelihood of regular customers ordering the same dish twice (an act that typifies the sloth with which we tend to celebrate brunch) is hugely diminished, which is also to say that it’s highly unlikely that the dishes pictured above and below will be on offer on the day that you make your particular pilgrimage. Bonus: they spin a great vinyl soundtrack – nothing too heavy, nothing too light. Whet your appetite and have a better gander inside the charming 30 seater below…
1529 West 6th Avenue | Vancouver, BC | 604-620-2070 | www.farmersapprentice.ca
by Andrew Morrison | The best burger I’ve had since Mamie Taylor’s was recently wolfed at The Cannibal Cafe on Commercial Drive. They invite diners to build their own, and mine was a beast on brioche that was layered with applewood smoked bacon, BBQ sauce, horseradish mayo, iceburg lettuce, tomato, onion, and smoked gouda. It was really well constructed and balanced (if not designed, ahem), and I like that diners get to choose the “doneness”. I also love how they crisp the circumference of the bun so the sauces don’t get all uppity in their soakitude. The modest set of taps (and mason jar pours) magnetise the bar, as do the no-nonsense but wicked friendly staffers. It was my first time in, and aside from all the few loud Edmonton Oilers fans out for their opener (see you in five more years, rookies), I really dug the space, which felt about authentic as it gets for The Drive. The punk rock gig poster wallpaper effect is charming, and as an ancient fan of local band SNFU, I think the branding is spot on. It definitely had me humming away…
The food ain’t bad and the food ain’t good Come with me, I’m on my way
Don’t dare order the “Leper’s foot”
I recommend the “Ass of a farmer’s wife”
Very tender, not too juicy, heavy on the cellulite
To the Cannibal Cafe
Won’t you come to the only place
Where you can be the Special Of The Day
The food ain’t bad and the food ain’t good
Come with me, I’m on my way
1818 Commercial Drive | Vancouver, BC | 604-558-4199 | www.cannibalcafe.ca
1818 Commercial Drive | Vancouver, BC | 604-558-4199 | www.cannibalcafe.ca
We love what Tony Marzo and Sachi Iwamoto, owners of Kessel & March, did with their ARC building space at Powell & Commercial. We also dig how the new foodshop/eatery’s simple and clean aesthetic extends to the affordable chow, none of which disappoints. If (when) you go, try the lemon/ricotta tart with salad trio (1), the bright and perfect saffron risotto (2), the berry pavlova as a chaser (3); the cured meat plate with toasted walnuts, olives, and house toast (4); and the carrot cake to close (5). They’re licensed, plus they have a swell patio and a curated selection of retail food items like tinned San Marzano tomatoes, preserves, salts, oils, and more. Kessel & March are open for lunch and dinner, as well as Saturday brunch (closed Sundays). Bonus: they launch a “family-style” supper program this Wednesday night!
Unit No. 109-1701 Powell St. at Commercial Drive | 604-874-1196 | www.kesselandmarch.com
by Andrew Morrison | We’ve printed plenty about Mamie Taylor’s already, from the arc of its journey toward opening day to the coming of its Great Wall. What we have yet to do, however, is write a word about the food. I suppose the owners – Simon Kaulback and Ron Oliver – are such well known bartenders (formerly of Boneta and The Diamond, respectively) that the tasty plays on Americana from Chef Tobias Grignon (ex-Bistro Pastis) were always going to take a back seat to their Tequila Boulevardiers, Pisco Punches, Sazeracs, Mai Tais, Brown Derby’s , and Mojitos . But the truth of it is the kitchen is cranking out good, honest eats at fair prices – dishes are in the $3.5 to $22 range – and they should be up front and driving the new restaurant’s reputation instead of the drinks.
The deep fried olives stuffed with blue cheese and saddled with currants, for instance, are worthy of particular praise. Just look at ‘em . It’s not easy to make olives any sexier than they already are when stark naked, but these little jobs – crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and killing it with great flavour - are the second best olive treatments going in Vancouver (second only to addictive, super smoky gems available at Wildebeest). Also on the small-but-delicious side is the bbq duck and foie gras terrine , even though I’d happily dump the brioche (everyone does that) and sub-in the spiced cornbread slab and biscuit wedge  for heartier, more flavourful tools to attack terrine with. The biscuits are repeated on the Fried Chicken plate , which comes with a forgetful mustard green and pepita salad that looks and tastes awkwardly out of place. The dish is all about the salad, which just confuses the hell out of my chicken-eatin’ mouth. The watermelon is a nice, electric addition, but I’ll hold out for whipped potatoes and gravy before I order this again (a shame really, as the chicken is fantastic).
One thing that I will order again and again is the burger, a thickset six ouncer of sirloin and brisket on a sesame seed bun loaded with melted fontina cheese, tomato relish, house-made yellow mustard, mayonnaise, pickles and raw white onions . Was it better than the bacon burger at Pourhouse? Yes. As good as the Angus burger at Edible Canada? Just by a hair, though Edible Canada makes much better fries to accompany theirs (in duck fat, yeah, for the win). Is it better than the Leerdammer cheeseburger that still looms like a ghost over the now defunct Au Petit Chavignol? Of course not. But to date, Mamie’s burger is my favourite item on their menu, and the best burger I’ve had so far in 2013. I don’t want to call it Vancouver’s “best” before I’ve had it a few more times and find it’s up to it (glad to, thanks), but it’s damn fine and simple, which I appreciate to no end, with all of its components perfectly apportioned and ably doing their own particular tasks in the mouth (except for the Fontina, which lazily spreads itself over everything like a slob). Ugh, just writing about it is making me pine, so forgive me for moving on to something just as good…
Four words: Veal Tongue Monte Cristo . Say it like a mantra. Wear it on a shirt. Whisper it slowly in your lover’s ear. It’s a tiny, adorable thing – a starter, really – but it has tremendous impact on the palate, and the dollop of accompanying house-made Thousand Islands dressing lends a not unwelcome Reuben touch that softens the salty licks of the sandwich (were it any larger it would probably overwhelm).
And speaking of perfectly-sized items…the saucy, coriander-licked, bacon-infused meatballs in triplicate are served  a la Goldilocks (any more and you’d feel a pig, any less and you’d feel cheated). Every dish I’ve mentioned so far has been meaty, so I’ll close with the bright salad of carrots and beets . The roasted roots are firm on the molars but give way nicely, with lashings of feta, citrus and mint creating a brighter envelope of base flavours. It’s the most colourful dish on the menu; more than just a reluctant afterthought nod to the many who aren’t red in tooth and claw.
I’ve already shown you the room (see the shots below — taken just before opening day). It’s cavernous and bricky, stocked with good tunes and lined with dead animals who look more bemused and confused than ferociously concerned about the conspicuous consumption of their distant brethren (though that duck by the bar looks somewhat nervous). The big takeaways are that the drinks are not as expensive as most of our cocktail-forward joints (hooray), and that Grignon’s food is dirt cheap when you consider the quality of his cooking (it really should be the star of the show). Kaulback and Oliver are two idiosyncratic personalities. The fact they’ve never owned a restaurant before might show with the occasional service mishap (waters slow to be refilled, etc. – nothing serious), but it’s early days yet and they deserve a hearing beyond their expertise with booze. Get in now and you’re golden.
251 East Georgia Street | 604-620-8818 | mamietaylors.ca | Mon-Sat 5pm – Midnight
by Andrew Morrison | One of the best restaurants to open so far this year is Burdock & Co.. It took over the old Cafeteria space at 2702 Main Street at 11th just a few months ago. It’s owned by noted local food promoter and former Bishop’s chef Andrea Carlson and her partner, designer/architect Kevin Bismanis. It’s gotten great press to date and even been shortlisted for enRoute Magazine’s 2013 Best New Restaurants in Canada list. The room is small and the look is airy, woody, clean and a little subdued, but not the least bit sleepy. A homey feel is achieved by way of mismatched antique silverware, natural linen napkins, and a floor staff that engages without being overbearingly “on message”. They know the contents and nuance of every dish on the menu, and can talk at length (with no small amount of pride) about every facet of the restaurant. Permeating everything is a sense of comfort. Burdock & Co. makes one feel totally at ease. There are no luxurious trappings or “talking point” design motifs. It’s honest and endearing, refreshing and real.
I fell hard for the fried chicken and pickled vegetable plate with crispy skin and charred chili vinegar . The breading on the chicken sports great flavour and the pickle sting of the garden medley gels well with the gentle punch of the sauce. It’s also really pretty to look at, with its bright colours artfully arranged on earthy ceramic. The other hit was a well-composed plate of burdock and heritage pork sausage slices hiding amidst perfectly seasoned potato cubes, all under a canopy of fresh dandelion . Neither were substantial in size, which left me wanting a little more. Still, their impact was more on the palate than on the belly, so the satisfaction comes from being wowed. It might therefore be especially prudent to order more than one dish per person. You can then share or hoard according to your miserly or generous sensibilities.
For drinks, they offer a tidy selection of wines and a handful of interesting beers (I love that Summer Solstice session ale from California’s Anderson Valley Brewing Company – so good with the chicken ), as well as some original cocktails and non-alcoholic concoctions, like the Cascadian Cooler of apple, fenugreek, lime, mint, and ginger beer was really refreshing . The list reads well, with curation being the name of the game.
I don’t want to give Carlson and Bismanis any ideas, but what they’re charging per plate is shockingly low for the quality of the ingredients and the love that comes across loud and clear in the cooking (everything is local, sustainable, organic). I was a little taken aback by the price of their non-alcoholic drinks ($6.50 for the Cascadian Cooler), but dollar for dollar I reckon Burdock & Co. to be one of the better value restaurants on Main. If you haven’t been yet, go, and snag that chicken dish before it’s gone.
Burdock & Co. is open 7 days a week from 5pm on. They do not accept reservations.
La Taqueria recently parked a food truck in Kitsilano. It’s a colourful one (complete with pastel pink hubcaps), so it’s hard to miss across the street from Bishop’s where West 4th meets Yew, right in front of the new location of 49th Parallel. The tacos really hit the spot. In the photos above you can see the Pescado with chipotle mayo, radish and pepitas – one of the best fish tacos in town ; the Al Pastor with achiote-marinated pork and pineapple ; the chicken and chorizo Tinga de Pollo in chipotle tomato sauce with sour cream; and the Rajas Con Crema – a veggie version with creamed corn, Mexican cheese and roasted poblanos . They’re exactly the same as the ones you get at their two brick and mortar taquerias, which is to say that they’re delicious (with a nice selection of salsas, too). They don’t sell cold drinks, so pop inside 49th Parallel for something chilled (they had a delicious blueberry iced tea) and, of course, one of their decadent donuts for dessert. Check them out for cheap eats from noon until 4pm on weekdays.
Our office is just around the corner from The Dunlevy Snackbar in Strathcona (433 Dunlevy). We’ve been in many times for lunch and coffee over the years, and have never been disappointed. The tiny cafe of cozy had – until recently – been restricted to daytime-only hours, but now, with sparkling new liquor license in hand, they’ve made the switch to suppertime. Owner Theo Lloyd-Kohls is a really down to earth, ever-present guy who made a great hire with new chef Aarin Smith, formerly of The Parker. Smith’s menu is strung with Asian and Mexican DNA — think bibimbap; inari pockets stuffed with fermented black bean and sichuan sauce ; smashed cucumber salads with chili oil and cilantro ; easy heat “fire chicken” tostadas , and fantastic Korean pancakes . They also make a mean whisky sour . The switch to dinner service may be cause for celebration (they’re killing it), especially with prices in the $4-$8 range, but we’re still going to miss their cookies and coffee in the daytime. Pay them a visit between 5pm and midnight, Tuesday through Saturday, and be sure to say hi for us.
To eat the whole menu at Cuchillo would be quite a feat. The beast is like a Tolstoy novella translated into Spanish. Finishing it is being hamstrung by the fact that we have yet to encounter anything at the new Latin-themed restaurant in Japantown that we wouldn’t order again. It’s therefore easy to fall into the trap of ordering the same things on each visit, leaving whole sections to wilt in waiting. The thing will take us ages to get through in its entirety, but that’s a problem we don’t mind having.
So far, we can recommend the following: heartily flavoured duck crackling tacos with roasted garlic and punchy blackberry habanero jam ; dense but still creamy white bean and Parmesan dip with excellent tortilla chips ; the damn fine house Mojito ; our favourite dish so far – the albacore tuna ceviche (you smash it up with the back of your fork) with purple potato causa made with double smoked bacon ; gently chili-spiced BBQ pulled pork tacos with refreshing mango papaya salsa ; tall Esteban Canal cocktail of thyme and cilantro infused Pisco, pear nectar, lime juice, honey, egg whites and bitters ; fried bread lightly dusted with chipotle sea salt ; baby husked corn (a new thing for us), grilled, buttered and flavoured with pequin pepper ; high-wire balanced Mexican Firing Squad cocktail of El Jimador tequila, lime juice, housemade grenadine, and angostura bitters ; pan-roasted heart of palm (where else can you get this?) served with a Basque-ish tomato/piquillo piperade and an awesome saute of cactus paddle and kale ; and the ground lamb mole tacos with sardo browned parmesan popcorn .
It had been a long time – years, even – since we’d supped at chef Stu Irving’s trough, probably not since he was the co-owner of Gastown’s long-shuttered Cobre (now Rodney’s Oyster House). We didn’t completely forget how good he was, but it was a happy, filling thing to be so deliciously reminded. And “H”, the bartender, is a straight up scientist who really knows what he’s doing with every bottle on his shelf.
One last note for the folks who decry or otherwise describe Cuchillo as an “upscale” eatery: the food might be top drawer, inventive, and especially easy on the eyes, but the prices range from $5 to $21 a plate, which is significantly cheaper than most other restaurants of a similar caliber. Dinner costs less here than it does Earls and the Cactus Club. Is it as cheap as the Ovaltine or a fill-up at Prime Time Chicken? No. Few meals are that affordable, but the quality at Cuchillo is much, much higher. So maybe stop with the “high end” and “fancy” bullshit. It’s just fiction – and not the kind that’s worth reading. Just sayin’.
This little babies from Beta5 really hit the spot. The ice cream was outstanding (made in-house, like everything else) and the cookies were soft chocolate shortbread that ease on the tooth without crumbling. We’ve just heard that they’ve sold out but the good news is that right now they’re doing a run of Black Forest ice cream sandwiches made with bourbon poached cherries sourced from Sapo Bravo farms. Giddy-up!
Beta5 | 413 Industrial Avenue (in the purple-peach building)| Vancouver, BC | $3.50 each