by Andrew Morrison | High end Japanese restaurant company Itoh Dining is opening its first North American restaurant, Shirakawa, in the steel and glass box that was the final incarnation of Boneta, which closed just before Christmas (115-12 Water St.). The company has several restaurants in Japan, including Itoh Dining by Nobu in Kanagawa Prefecture (a partnership with famed chef/restaurateur Nobu Matsuhisa).
Shirakawa, so named after the river in Japan’s Kyoto prefecture, will be a high-end modern teppanyaki eatery specialising in Kobe beef and particularly Kuroge Wagyu beef (aka “Japanese Black”). The chefs – highly trained pros plucked from Mr Itoh’s well established line up – are coming over from Japan with their own iron griddle kitchen equipment and the beef, which is the real deal and not the “kobe-style” American/Australian stuff that many local restaurants have been peddling to their great fortune for over a decade now. There will be some sashimi/nigiri on offer (using red vinegar instead of white for the rice), and possibly some Nobu originals in the form of sauces and dressings, but the focus will be squarely on the beef. Think sampler plates showcasing different grades (like a wine vertical, only with beef), full steaks, gyozas stuffed with wagyu and foie gras, et cetera. Vegetarian it most definitely is not.
According to Operations Manager Takuya Motohashi (who was kind enough to show me around the space yesterday), the bar program is going to be more substantial than the sort one typically finds in Vancouver’s Japanese eateries. Mr. Itoh is not only a chef, he’s also a sommelier, so we can expect plenty of wine, sake, inventive cocktails, and good beer (not just the typical Japanese brands). This was a relief to hear, as quality drinks are the norm in Gastown, and it would certainly be a shame if the old Boneta bar were to ever suffer second rate booze. As far as atmosphere is concerned, I ‘m seeing it as a Japanese version L’Abattoir — slickly on the restrained side of cool; not as stiff as Tojo’s but not as irreverent as an izakaya.
As far as I could make out from my walk-through, the structure of the space isn’t being tampered with. They’re toying with the idea of having a 4-6 seat kitchen bar so that a handful of customers can be nightly wowed by the chefs’ knife skills and the meat’s rarefied sizzle, but beyond that, a swap-out of light fixtures and tables, and the addition of some fresh art work, I don’t think the aesthetic transition will prove too dramatic.
While I do look forward to the proper opening of Shirakawa on May 20th (supper only until June 1st, when lunch service begins), I still can’t help but mourn Boneta. Honestly, it was straight-up bizarre being back in the old space again, and maybe a little sad, too. There were several immediate and credible suitors when owners Mark Brand and Neil Ingram put it up for sale last year. Some were promising, sure, but I think it entirely appropriate that the restaurant ultimately went to a company that would be bringing something new and exciting to the neighbourhood, much like Boneta did when it originally opened (at its West Cordova location) in July, 2007.
Though I’ve yet to eyeball the finished menu, I fully expect Shirakawa’s steaks to be the most expensive in town. Will that hurt them? Likely not. It’s about supply and demand, and by my read of the landscape there’s high demand for authentic, Japanese wagyu and absolutely no supply. Come opening day, the question will be very straightforward: who that is red in tooth and claw can resist the prospect of the best beef in the world, sizzling at last in Vancouver?
by Andrew Morrison | Douglas Adams once wrote: “Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news.” Too right. I expect that word of Boneta’s closing next month will reach far and wide and fast before you finish reading this.
It’s official: the award-winning Gastown eatery from Mark Brand and Neil Ingram will shutter for good after a final service scheduled for December 23rd. Though it’s not listed for sale yet, I’ve been told that Brand and Ingram are already in discussions with more than one interested party and that they have no plans to reopen the restaurant after the Christmas holidays.
Management were told of the decision to close before the weekend. The remainder of the staff were told late this afternoon.
Boneta, named after Brand’s mother, launched at its former location, 1 West Cordova St., in July of 2007. It moved a stone’s throw away to its current location in The Garage development four years later in September of 2011.
Its highly idiosyncratic French-West Coast food concept stayed true through four chefs. The first was Jeremie Bastien, a former sous chef from Lumiere. He was followed by Jason Leizert and Ciaran Chung, and finally the talented Jeff MacIntosh (I expect he’ll pop up elsewhere soon). The cuisine successfully hovered in that hard-to-nail nether region between casual and fine dining. So did the service. The atmosphere, however, was invariably casual. As a favourite hang-out for gourmands at rest (it was the unofficial headquarters of restaurant industry veterans on their nights off), it will be sorely missed.
Business, I’m told, has been good, and being a regular customer myself, I didn’t find that hard to believe. The bar remains a magnet for cocktail lovers, the dining room always looks busy, and it’s long been a popular venue for large parties and corporate functions. Few restaurants in the city garner greater respect than Boneta. So why close now?
“We sat down and looked at where the dining scene was going and decided to get out on top,” Brand tells me. He also sees the move as a much needed chance to concentrate on his other projects, among them Portside, Sea Monstr Sushi, The Diamond and, of course, the big renovation of Save On Meats. For Ingram, it’s a little different. “This is my mid-life crisis,” the 47 year old says with a laugh. “Some people buy a sports car. I’m selling a restaurant. I want a change.” Will we see Ingram open another restaurant somewhere down the road? I expect so. The longer he takes a holiday the worse off our restaurant scene will be.
They might be happy and excited for the change, but I don’t share their enthusiasm, at least not yet. I think this sucks, straight up. It’s as hard to imagine Gastown without a Boneta in 2014 as it was difficult to imagine Gastown with a Boneta in 2007.
To say that a lot has changed in the neighbourhood in those seven years would be a spectacular understatement. Boneta’s success and popularity showed that it was possible to do something a little (or a lot) more elevated than your basic tourist trap or pub in the neighbourhood, and I can’t help but wonder if any of the newer restaurants – L’Abattoir, Cork & Fin, Secret Location, House Guest, Pourhouse, et cetera – would have dared open in these parts if Boneta had not first blazed the trail. Perhaps the old Latin logical fallacy of Post hoc ergo propter hoc (After this, therefore, because of this) actually works in this regard.
Like so many other restaurants, Boneta was conceived over after-work drinks between the original trio of Brand, Ingram, and Andre McGillivray. Brand was working at Chambar with McGillivray at the time, and McGillivray knew Ingram when they were together at Feenie’s and Lumiere.
According to Ingram, the restaurant came about – conceptually – as the three of them kvetched about their respective places of employment. Over pints, they would pine and lament, saying things like “I wish my restaurant was a little more like yours“. The trio amounted to something of a dream team. “The only thing that could have made it better,” Ingram half jokes, “is if we’d pulled someone out of Vij’s”.
Together, they were aiming for something that was a little like Feenie’s, a little like Lumiere, and a little like Chambar, but entirely their own. Their choice of location was a risky one, as 1 West Cordova had just finished chewing up three different restaurants in as many years. What’s more, they only had a one year lease. I remember how they built the place. It was with their bare hands.
BONETA OVER THE YEARS
The rest is history. In a story I wrote for Vancouver Magazine several years ago, I quoted a restaurant lifer who, in comparing the $8 million price tag of David Aisenstat’s Shore Club (now closed) to the less than $100,000 spent to launch Boneta, said: “For eight million, I would have preferred 80 Bonetas.” Who wouldn’t?
Boneta has won over a dozen coveted awards since opening, even landing a spot on enRoute Magazine’s 10 Best New Restaurants list in 2008. These accolades and achievements were earned and shared by a great staff. Today’s fine crew – led by Ben de Champlain (who actually got his start in the kitchen) – compliment some first tier alumni. To wit, Chad Clark, now the general manager at Hawksworth, was a member of Boneta’s opening team; Rodney Scharf managed the floor before moving on to run Cork & Fin; Simon Kaulback, now co-owner at Mamie Taylor’s in Chinatown, was a fixture for several years, moving up from barman to general manager; Justin Tisdall, now the GM at Chambar, also toiled behind the bar early on, as did Steve Da Cruz, who went on to open the Corner Suite Bistro De Luxe in 2009 (with McGillivray) before opening The Parker in 2012 with ex-Boneta chef Jason Leizert. And who can forget Charlie Ainsbury? Amazingly, between Scout and Vancouver Magazine, Boneta has counted three Bartenders of the Year behind its wood and well (Brand, Kaulback, de Champlain), while Ingram, let it not be forgotten, was once crowned Sommelier of the Year. But who’s counting?
Like I said up top, it’s hard to imagine Gastown without Boneta. I’m going to miss it terribly; the excellent art by Charles Forsberg and Johnny Taylor, the tossing of spent corks behind the bar (in the thousands), and the oddly-shaped brass pole at the end of the bar that thousands of strippers once used to help them climb up and down the stage (salvaged from The Drake). But most of all I’m going to miss the feeling upon entry that I was home. That’s a pretty rare and special feeling, and I know it was felt by many.
The restaurant’s motto - BONETA LOVES YOU – never felt the least bit false. With a few weeks remaining, there’s still time to reciprocate.
Boneta, I love you, too.
The GOODS from Boneta
Vancouver, BC | We are looking for a new member of the team for our iconic Gastown restaurant. Candidates should have a few years experience, enjoy high-volume open kitchens and be happily ambitious. Pastry or baking experience would be looked on very kindly, too. Please send resumes to info [at] boneta.ca or come by in person Monday through Saturday between 2pm and 4pm. We look forward to meeting you. You can learn more about us after the jump… Read more
by Marcus Kaulback | Slowing down a little and breaking out a good book is never a bad idea. But what to read? You could walk into any bookstore and roll the dice on a recent release, but here’s another option: pick up a book that you last put down 5, 10, or 20 years ago. For the next book in Scout’s Read It (Again) series, we’re checking Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella, “Death In Venice”.
Why You Should Read It Again: An elderly German writer vacations in Venice as a guilty reward for a lifetime of ascetic diligence, and falls into obsession over a young and beautiful boy. Despite it being a very philosophical look at wisdom versus beauty, at restraint versus lust, and is correspondingly dry and long-winded at points, it’s an engrossing and beautifully written work. It remains a powerful look at the potency of desire – an emotion all of us encounter every day – and at what it can push us to do.
Pair It With: Von Aschenbach, the abstinent Spartan that he is, doesn’t drink, and so gives us no hints as to what to sip while following his self-loathing journey. But the Venetian Spritz – an aperitif cocktail of white wine, sparkling mineral water, and either Aperol, Campari, or Cynar – is a refreshing choice, and one that will help you transport yourself to the Lido beach in your mind (content and thankful that yours isn’t the mind of that tortured and lascivious German writer). Hunker down on Boneta’s patio and indulge.
Brand, Mark | Person | A barman-turned-businessman who went from making cocktails at Chambar to co-owning an art gallery (Catalog), a bar (Portside), a shop (Sharks + Hammers), a brewery (Persephone), and a number of eateries (Boneta, Save On Meats, Sea Monstr Sushi). All of his businesses are located within the Downtown Eastside, except for his brewery, which is located in Gibsons, BC.
Usage | “I heard Brand was opening another place in Gastown…”
by Andrew Morrison | Two well liked and highly respected front of house veterans are teaming up to open a place of their own. Former Bartender of the Year Simon Kaulback of Boneta and Ron Oliver of The Diamond have picked up the recently closed Keefer Bakery location in the heart of Chinatown – 251 East Georgia opposite Phnom Penh – and they will soon take possession.
Though they aren’t 100% sure what the dinner-only 100 seater will be called yet (they’re down to just two names), they have the food concept figured out. From our conversations and my read of their first conceptual menu draft (penned by a chef friend of theirs), it sounds to me like they’re planning to do something akin to adventurous American comfort food, the kind of gastropubbish, rough and ready (but nevertheless refined) sort of thing one eats at Calgary’s Model Milk, Portland’s Woodsman Tavern, New York’s Spotted Pig, Charleston’s Husk, and San Francisco’s Park Tavern. They have yet to hire a chef to translate their vision, so if you’ve ever worn a white toque and you dig all of the above, give them a shout because they’re in need.
As far as the design and feel of the place are concerned, I think we’re going to see something like a cross between Chambar and The Narrow: a busy, somewhat dark, possibly leathery, woody, and taxidermish comfort zone with a guttural soundtrack and an expertly run 14 seat bar. I like to imagine that it’s being built with Norman Rockwell in mind, but only if he ditched the whole art thing to become a lumberjack who was particularly fond of bourbon and armed with an old lever-action Winchester. You know what I mean?
Clearly, it’s a tricky concept to pin down, and that elusiveness has everything to do with the fact that we haven’t really seen anything like it yet in Vancouver. And that’s never a bad thing. Expect opening night sometime in the Spring/Summer of 2013.
The GOODS from Boneta
Vancouver, BC | Boneta is looking to add a full-time, experienced professional server to its front of house family. If you have a thorough understanding of service protocols and a passion for food and wine, you are invited to drop off your resume in person between 4pm and 5pm, seven days a week, or email it in confidence to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Boneta, peruse after the jump… Read more
In case you missed it, here’s newly anointed Scout Magazine Bartender of the Year Ben de Champlain on Global TV’s Morning News talking about his victory and making one of his badass, tourney-winning drinks. Thirsty?
Gastown’s Boneta has finally scored its courtyard patio. The new (and rather lengthy) one piece communal table built by our friends at Union Wood & Supply Co. landed yesterday, and it’s looking very lovely. Check it out in the courtyard off 12 Water Street. Photos via @unionwoodco and Boneta GM Simon Kaulback.
by Andrew Morrison | In what I think went down as the most memorable and exciting bartending competition that Vancouver has ever witnessed before, Boneta barman Ben de Champlain defeated The Keefer Bar’s Dani Tatarin yesterday to win the title of Scout Magazine’s 2012 Bartender of the Year. And boy is my palate still tired. All told, local titans of the trade Mark Brand (Save On Meats, etc), Steve Da Cruz (Tacofino), Ron Oliver (The Diamond) and David Greig (L’Abattoir) and I must have judged some 60+ drinks on the say, which made for some good times indeed and bellies full of drunk bread. It was an incredible turnout – standing room only – and a superb thing to see our local bartending community out as one to celebrate their very best talents.
From the outset, this tournament was designed by bartenders for bartenders. It actually began a month ago on June 4th, when over 30 of BC’s top barkeeps wrote a 50 question entrance examination (just like school). One exam was given at the Diamond in Gastown, and another was served to a group of keeners across the Strait in Victoria. It was not at all an easy test. It was specifically designed to favour booze nerds of the most bizarrely devoted kind. Of course there were some sneaky questions among the serious ones. These ranged from essential intel, like “What time does Gyoza King close on a Saturday night?” to totally obtuse poseurs of urban legend, such as “In which Victoria neighbourhood did a cougar once famously break into a basement suite?”
A couple of weeks later we announced the 16 bartenders with the highest marks. They were, from 16th to 1st: David Bain of Diva at the Met and Josh Boudreau of Victoria’s Veneto (tie); Ryan Malcolm of Victoria’s Sauce; Alistair Bell of Revel Room; Dani Tatarin of The Keefer Bar; “JS” of Tableau Bar Bistro; Jay Browne of Calabash; the irrepressible “H” of Jules Bistro; Brendan Brewster of Victoria’s Fiamo & Svelte; Brooke Levie of The Marina in Victoria; Jon Smollensky of Hawksworth; Marc Smolinski of Max’s; Gez McAlpine of The Keefer Bar; Josh Pape of The Diamond; Ben de Champlain of Boneta; Simon Kaulback of Boneta; and Shaun Layton of L’Abattoir. A tough field, indeed.
Fast-forward to yesterday, where the 16 gathered to first blind test 5 spirits and make an original cocktail which was judged blind (we were sequestered in the back room behind a curtain). Some of the drinks in the latter challenge were outstanding. Others, not so much. Still, the level of commitment from the competitors was made very plain. Once the scores were added up, we had to eliminated the lower half of the field. Those who remained were Josh Pape, J.S., Marc Smolinski, Simon Kaulback, Brooke Levie, Dani Tatarin, Alistair Bell, and Ben de Champlain.
Now we entered the most gruelling part of the competition: a no hold’s barred series of timed, head to head smackdowns. In twos, the eight bartenders were presented with chits of four drinks to replicate a real world scenario. Some of the these were familiar (eg. Mint Julep, Sazerac), while others were less common (eg. Mary Pickford, Clover Club). Points were awarded for style, speed, and accuracy/taste. When the smoke cleared, we were left with Pape, Tatarin, de Champlain and Bell.
In the next round, Tatarin took out Pape by a close margin and de Champlain laid waste to Bell, setting up a final that was more riveting than any competition I’ve ever been involved in before (it made the Black Box challenge at the Canadian Culinary Championships look like a bag of dead dolphins). Dani was the first to finish, which gave her some points, but she dropped the ball on a couple of drinks, letting the turtle thwart the hare. Ben took his time to both entertain (in his own inimitable way) and concentrate, and ended up with a series of cocktails that swayed every one of the judges. It was a hard won thing, and he owned it like a fucking boss.
In addition to winning our 2012 Bartender of the Year title and a framed award designed by Glasfurd & Walker, de Champlain took home a holiday package put together by our good friends at Tourism Kelowna. It includes two nights accommodation at the very gorgeous Clarance House, two tickets to the always amazing Okanagan Feast of Fields, and a round of golf for two (with power cart) at the Graham Cooke-designed Harvest Golf Club. He also gets $600 cash, a lovely pair of sneakers from Alife, a whole bunch of glassware, and the respect of his peers and the city at large.
Everyone here at Scout would like to thank our amazing hosts and the staff at The Keefer Bar; the tireless tournament coordinators, David Greig and Keenan Hood; everyone on the Island who helped facilitate; all of the judges (you poor dears); and everyone who got their asses to Chinatown on a holiday to watch it all go down. I had the most fun I’d had in a while, and I’m already looking forward to next year.
The fundraiser to aid Sean Hamilton went down this past Sunday night in the old Boneta space and it was a tremendous success. As you may recall, the lifer in Vancouver’s vibrant restaurant industry is battling his second round with cancer, and has been in need of financial assistance. Here’s a note from one of the event’s main organisers, Michael Dinn (co-proprietor of JoieFarm0:
We raised just shy of $10,000 to help Sean with his expenses while he battles a second bout of cancer. If you know of anyone who was unable to attend but would like to donate, please direct them here. We’d like to acknowledge the following businesses and individuals whose tremendous support made the event possible: Abigail’s Party, Alta Bistro, Bambu – The Salon, BC Hospitality Foundation, Boneta, Coletta Consulting, Cork & Fin, Dana Lee Harris Consulting, Dockside Restaurant, Foremost Wines, Freehouse Wines, Gotham Steakhouse, Granville Island Hotel, Hell’s Kitchen, Heyday Design, Hip Baby, Hy’s Restaurants, Irvin Walkes, JoieFarm Winery, Keith Nicholson, L’Abattoir, Lake Breeze Winery, Landmark Selections, Laughing Stock Winery, Marquis Wine Cellar, Merchants Oyster Bar, Nadine McDowell, Okanagan Crush Pad, Patrick Moss-Norbury, Peacock & Martin, Peckinpah, Poplar Grove Winery, Red Truck Brewery, Save-On Meats, Scout Magazine, Steve da Cruz, Stoneboat Winery, Tavola , The Delta Pinnacles, The Diamond, The Roxy, Doolin’s, The Cellar, The Sardine Can, The Storeroom, The Wines of Argentina, The Wines of South Africa, Top Table Restaurants (West, Araxi, Cin Cin, Bluewater Café), the Umberto Restaurant Group (Il Giardino, La Trattoria di Umberto, Il Caminetto), Vij’s, and Wild Rice.
Battle hard, Sean!
We dropped in to Boneta to dine with friends the other night. The new spring menu is out, and it’s mighty good. Pictured above is just one of the dishes that made us happy: halibut (yay for the season) with baby artichokes, fava beans, and morel mushrooms (both buttered and aerated). Mmm, cake.
Before the crew at Boneta went on to celebrate their staff party at The Waldorf last night, they gathered in the closed restaurant to mess around. When tasked with sabering a bottle of Champagne for the first time, one of the cooks (Mark) was asked to employ one of his everyday tools, a saucepan, for the job. Because of course.
by Claire Lassam | I wish I could start this off by telling a sweet story about my Italian grandmother teaching me how to make potato pasta, or even of my non-Italian mother who embraced my father’s heritage with gusto by showing me how to push the yukon golds through a ricer and carefully fold in just the right amount of flour, but this is not the case. I do vaguely remember my Nona’s gnocchi, but in a far off, nostalgic way that makes me wonder if I’m not just exaggerating them with a trick of memory. Mostly, I remember reading and re-reading Thomas Kellers recipe, and all the worrying and fussing and time it took the first time I made his gnocchi. I could never forget the overwhelming relief that came when I took that first bite. It was not just relief, but also happiness, the slightly awestruck feeling that I had done it right (I think I was only 15, so there were more misses than hits at this point).
Anyway, it was in that instant that I first fell in love with proper gnocchi; little nuggets of potato that were soft and fluffy with just enough bite that they held together for a magic instant before melting away entirely. They required time, energy and a little finesse, but they were worth it. When bound – typically – in a little tomato sauce, they make the perfect comfort food.
The trouble, for me at least, is always the time and the lack of space. I find myself eating them out more often than making them in, and so my mission this week was to find Vancouver’s best gnocchi dish. I needed the soft, ethereal little dumplings to be served in a sauce with character; a real exemplar that would inspire me to return again and again. It wasn’t easy.
Most classic Italian restaurants get the texture right, so I began with Il Giardino and Cioppino’s. Both produced lovely versions (I have it on good authority that it’s the same recipe at both), but Cioppino’s won hands down in the tomato sauce department, what with their delicious addition of mozzarella di buffalo. Still, at $25 a bowl, I felt a little gouged, even with the wonderful cheese.
I went to Campagnolo for a different experience, and found a tantalizing, Roman-style gnocchi made with semolina flour (not potato). Sadly, the texture was disappointing (the dough was over-salted) and the sauce lacked punch. Boneta’s was a big improvement, and thus far my favourite. They were tiny and covered in a wild mushroom cream sauce with a wonderful lemon juice zing. It was so good, in fact, that I went twice. The gnocchi themselves could have been a little softer (they had a slightly gummy texture, probably from working the dough just the smallest amount too much), and on both occasions the sauce was split (the bottoms of the finished bowls were all oil with bits of white sauce trapped within). Imperfect, but still very good.
The best was found by accident. I didn’t expect to find any gnocchi on the menu at Tableau, the French bistro at the foot of Coal Harbour’s Loden Hotel, but when some friends and I popped in for a drink and I saw them on offer, I had to give them a try (I was feeling lucky, and lucky I was). These were flawless, placed as they were atop a pool of pesto cream sauce and dotted with wild mushrooms (not getting soggy underneath). Every time the dish would begin to seem too rich, I’d get a bite of a roasted tomato – still sharply acidic – and it would make me start craving the cream again. They were pan-fried to finish, and despite the resultant, crisped exteriors, they were still meltingly tender. They were thus endowed with more flavour, allowing them be the star of their own show. And in this girl’s opinion, that’s exactly what they should be.
Claire Lassam is a baker, blogger, and freelance writer based in East Van. She has been cooking and baking her way through the city for nearly five years, working in restaurants ranging from Cioppino’s to Meat & Bread. She currently toils at Beta 5 Chocolates and runs the baking blog Just Something Pretty.