OPENING SOON | First Look Inside The New (And Almost Finished) Location Of Chambar

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by Andrew Morrison | We broke the news of Chambar’s coming expansion back in October. The Belgian-Moroccan eatery – one of my personal favourites since it opened 10 years ago on Beatty Street – is only moving next door…

The new restaurant will be roughly twice the size of the current one, with about 270 seats between two levels, a 50 seat patio, and private rooms that can fit 20 – 80 people. There are lots of opportunities for new design motifs to fit in with the old, but I suspect it will look very similar to the original. Yes, in addition to the branding, relaxed vibe, deep drinks programs, and casual flirtations with fine dining, much of its furniture will also be making the move, which is great news because who doesn’t love the original tables, couches, banquettes and button-ed up red booths? ”The layout will be just like the old Chambar,” Karri explains, pointing out how the front will be the lounge and bar area that narrows at the waist to open up into a dining room. “The new place has brick and beams, too,” she adds, referring to the core aesthetic of the original. One big change is that the wall that divides the patio from the interior will be glass (said patio will also have its all-day sunshine filtered by young trees – sounds awesome). Also making the move will be the staff, though they’ll definitely be needing to hire a lot more people considering the breadth of their expansion.

30 more people, to be exact. They’ll need them, too, as the place is huge. I went on a tour with co-owner Karri Schuermans today and while it was clear that they still have a ways to go if they’re to meet their revised target opening date of the first week of August, most of what’s left to do is cosmetic. Most of the heavy lifting appeared to be done. As you can see from the shots below, it does resemble the layout of the original Chambar. The only obvious departures are the sprawling patio (which I expect will be pretty magical), the stairs that lead down to the massive kitchens and private room, the rooftop deck for further private functions (killer views from up there), the sound proofing at the entrance to the rear dining room, and the introduction of a new colour to the Chambar fold: a tealish green (evidenced on the wall section by the door and wave-like panel that spills across the ceiling above the bar).

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Owner/chef Nico Schuermans menus are also taking shape. He’ll be keeping plenty of the Cafe Medina (also moving) originals – which he developed in the first place – for breakfast service (fricassee, etc), while lunch and dinner will see classic mainstays like the lamb tagine and the moules frites joined by about 20 small plates, which are still in development. I don’t know how they could possibly improve on the drinks side of things, but they’re aiming to make life easier for the bar staff. The 22 seat bar is purpose-built for ease and efficiency (wells and rails galore), and the wines are going to be laid resplendent on racks inside a great big temperature-controlled walk-in box of glass just off the dining room. It all looks fantastic, and it’s incredibly comforting that they’re a known entity with a pretty kickass track record of doing good things. I mean, what’s not to love about this move? Chambar + patio? Yes, please! Chambar + breakfast? Absolutely! Chambar + roof? Let’s go!

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WELCOME | The West End’s “Exile Bistro” Has Joined The Growing Scout Community

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We’ve invited the West End’s plant-forward Exile Bistro eatery to join the Restaurants section of our GOODS program as a recommended venue for delicious food and drink. They are now proud members of Scout, and as such we will be sharing their news and employment needs on our front page in addition to hosting a page for them in our archive of local and independent goodness. We thank them for their support and for making The West End a more delicious place to be.

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DINER | “The Abbey” On West Pender Hosts Dry Run, Prepares For Launch On Weekend

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by Andrew Morrison | If all goes according to plan, the highly anticipated new tavern/gastropub from chef Andrey Durbach, Chris Stewart, and Michel Durocher (see also The Sardine Can, La Buca, Pied-a-Terre) will open this weekend in the old Wild Rice spot at 117 West Pender Street.

I slipped in to The Abbey for its “friends and family” night late last week. Though it had all the appearances of a fully functioning eatery, they’re still waiting on a few pieces of art to arrive and the kitchen crew are taking extra time to iron out some kinks. In other words, by no means do these photos fully represent what we’ll see on opening day.

I won’t comment in detail on the food I tried because it was their first dry run (everything but booze was on the house), except to say that those appreciative of Durbach’s cooking at its most carnivorous are in for a treat. Think potted oxtail, beef consomme, organic beef patty melts with Tête de Moine cheese and Berkshire bacon, lamb shanks, bangers, hanger steaks, and housemade sausage rolls. There are veggie and fish dishes, too, and they’re hardly after-thoughts (lobster mac & cheese, shrooms on toast, broccoli & cheddar beignets), but I’ll always gravitate to Durbach’s meatier plates. Force of habit, et cetera.

I didn’t get to properly explore the bar program helmed by Ben de Champlain – formerly of Boneta and the winner of Scout’s Bartender of the Year competition in 2012 – but it read like it was totally on point (it was especially nice to finally try a Dageraad beer after reading about the development of the brewery for so long).

Though it was made clear that the design was unfinished, there were finished aspects that caught my eye. I loved, for example, the raised booths running parallel to the bar (so cozy), and coveted the curvy, sleek look of the all-wood high top chairs. Of course the ghosts of Wild Rice are irretrievably embedded in the bones of the place, so the change will take some time getting used to, but it feels relaxed and ready to go. Good times, I suspect, will come naturally to The Abbey. Take a look…

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SEEN IN VANCOUVER #502 | Remembering The Construction Of ‘Cuchillo’ On Powell St.

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First years are tough for restaurants in Vancouver, where the market is over-saturated and the costs involved are prohibitively high. We mention this (the utterly obvious) because we were cleaning up our photo galleries earlier today and saw that it was the first birthday of Cuchillo, the Latin-flavoured DTES eatery on Powell St. from John Cooper and chef Stu Irving (pictured above). Like nearby Pidgin, they didn’t have the smoothest of starts on account of anti-gentrification activists picketing their front door, but they kept their heads down and concentrated on the things they could control, namely the service of quality food and drink (the protests backfired, handing both restaurants legions of new diners who thought abusing small businesses was an ill-considered response to a complex issue). The photos below reveal how much work went into the build. And so, with that and a sudden craving for battered rockfish tacos, we wish them a very happy birthday!

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WELCOME | Tofino’s New “Wolf In The Fog” Has Joined The Growing Scout Community

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We’ve invited Vancouver Island’s brand new Wolf In The Fog eatery to join the Restaurants section of our GOODS program as a recommended place to sip and sup in Tofino. They are now proud members of Scout, and as such we will be sharing their news and employment needs on our front page in addition to hosting a page for them in our archive of local and independent goodness. We thank them for their support and for making The Island a more delicious place to be.

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DINER | Brick & Mortar “Juice Truck” Spot On Track To Open Tomorrow In Mt. Pleasant

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by Andrew Morrison & Michelle Sproule | Mount Pleasant residents and fans of The Juice Truck – regularly parked at the foot of Abbott St. in Gastown – will be stoked to learn that the long awaited brick and mortar location opens tomorrow at 28 West 5th Avenue between Manitoba and Ontario.

The good news comes on the heels of a couple of successful dry runs that saw the smooth roll-out of a brand new food program drawn up by Lina Caschetto, who worked previously in the kitchens at Wildebeest, Cuchillo, and Les Faux Bourgeois (chef David Gunawan of Farmer’s Apprentice had originally been tasked with designing the menu, but we assume his upcoming Grapes & Soda project made the collaboration too time-consuming to commit to).

As we noted previously in our original reveal of the space, it’s a multi-purpose joint with retail frontage selling juices, cleanses, and a variety of packaged healthy supplements; a massive, fully operational commissary kitchen that plays double duty making juices and doing food prep (they’re also renting out a corner to the awesome ladies at Culver City Salads); a beautiful community space that’ll seat 26 people for sit-down pop-up suppers, screenings, and workshops galore; and a cozy parking spot for Ol’ Juicy, the truck that started it all.

Hats off to our friends at local design shop Glasfurd & Walker (see also Meat & Bread, Pizzeria Farina, Wildebeest, etc). They are branding wizards primarily, and this is their first interior. We think they’ve really nailed it “on brand” (dig the broccoli and banana bondage posters by Phoebe Glasfurd in the retail area, the three changeling fruit/veg posters by Alex Proba in the community space, and the painting of the Ol’ Juicy by Andy Dixon in the washroom). Take a closer look below…

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DINER | Inside The Italian Tapas Bar “Next Door” To E. Cordova’s Nicli Antica Pizzeria

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by Andrew Morrison | I recently took a look inside the construction site of Next Door, the new Italian small plates eatery that is literally next door to its big brother, the award-winning Nicli Antica Pizzeria on East Cordova St. in Gastown. As you can see from the shots below, it’s quite different from its unsuccessful predecessor, Vicino Pastaria & Deli. For starters, the seating capacity has beautifully mushroomed from 16 to 50, which basically transforms the entire space, and it’ll be an evenings-only operation, Wednesday to Saturday.

The concept of shareable “cicchetti”-style small plates will likely fly better. Expect “stuzzichino” snacks like a “Not So Scotch Egg” (Italian sausage wrapped around fresh mozzarella stuffed with a runny egg yolk, served with a spicy egg white aioli), and small plates like Saltspring Island mussels with spicy Italian sausage in a tomato and white wine broth and house-made ricotta gnocchi with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil. For drinks, expect classic Italian cocktails and 10 Italian wines by the glass. From the PR:

“Next Door is making the wait for Neapolitan pizza at Nicli that much more enjoyable. We want Next Door to become part of the Nicli experience -you can start with a drink and an appy at Next Door, then go next door to Nicli for pizza. We see Next Door as a place where you can come by for a pre-dinner drink and snack before doing a Gastown hop, or, if you are looking for a night out, order a few more plates and make an evening of it here,” says Nicli and Next Door General Manager Anthony Sterne. “Vancouverites have really taken to share-plate dining and it’s a concept that is very Italian. In Italy, they eat dinner much later than in North America. Evenings generally start by meeting friends for an aperitivo and light snacks followed by a full dinner later and ends with more wine and conversation with more friends. It’s a very social way of life. By opening Next Door, we are hoping to replicate that ‘dolce vita’ feeling.”

They were looking to open as soon as next Thursday, June 26th, but that might prove a little too ambitious. Either way, it looks and sounds like a worthwhile place to check out as soon as it’s unlocked. Stay tuned…

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DINER | Inside “Bufala”, The New West Side Pizza Joint From The Owners Of Wildebeest

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by Andrew Morrison | Bufala, the new pizzeria from Wildebeest owners Josh Pape and James Iranzad, is now officially open at 5395 West Blvd (Arbutus) at West 38th in Kerrisdale. We broke the news of the 55 seater’s imminence exactly a month ago, so it’s been a quick turnaround (find out more about the build here).

Granted, it wasn’t a big construction job, but I like what they’ve done with the place. The booths and the communal table fit the room nicely, and the wee little kitchen bar is pretty adorable. My favourite thing? The corks piled high against the front window (see the first and last photos in the gallery below). These were collected over time at Gastown’s now shuttered Boneta, where the bartenders used to toss the corks behind a partition every time they opened a bottle of wine (I tossed quite a few myself). There must have been a thousand of them by the time Boneta closed last Christmas. It’s nice that Pape and Iranzad – both long-time regulars at Boneta - were able to save them and put them to decorative use.

Anyway, like a good sport I tried to eat my way through the menu last night with the help of friends and family, but I feel like I hardly made a dent. The feasting was fast and furious, but I took a few staccato notes, the first of which reading as follows: “the crust is really good”

And I mean really, really good. Rather than go the traditional Neapolitan “00″ Caputo flour route, they’re using a mix of bread flour and Pape’s family wheat flour (from Vancouver Island) with a sourdough starter. It’s turned out to be an excellent blend, and despite the comparative low heat/slower baking time of their double decker electric oven (compared to wood-burning ovens and most other electric ovens), the dough still achieves good char-pimpling and retains its heat and structural integrity long enough for a full pie to be enjoyed (ie. it doesn’t flop but can fold, libretto-style, without creasing). The taste is there – subtle, singed, superb - and so is the chew, which is consistent from rim to center. And to have the crust play a different tune, simply anoint it with any of the four different bottled oils provided (ham, parmesan, herb, chili).

As for the sauces, the rosso is made from Italian plum tomatoes (not San Marzanos) and the bianco is straight bechamel spread thinly with a hint of nutmeg. The toppings, mercifully, stay at home in both sauces, which is to say that they don’t slide around like messy, untrustworthy bastards.

And that’s a good thing, as the toppings are really what makes Bufala special. The house smoked ham and pea bianco pizza with truffle oil and taleggio, for example, is absolutely revelatory, on par with the best pies I’ve ever had at my favourite Vancouver pizzeria, Barbarella (It’s already 24 hours later and I’m still thinking about it). The unlikely bedfellow oxtail and kale pizza was also a winner on account of its originality and the punch of its roasted garlic, as was the far more standard (but equally impactful) pesto and ricotta bianco.

In all, there are 11 pizzas to choose from, and nearly all of them will lift your brow. Think bacon and clam, bresaola and horseradish, sausage and Wildebeest’s famous smoked castelvetrano olives, et cetera. Given the kitchen’s background in butchery and charcuterie, and the proximity of the Kerrisdale Farmer’s Market (across the street), every ingredient that makes it onto a pie is either going to be made in-house or vetted, hawk-like, for quality and provenance.

The menu also includes many starters (love that kale Caesar!), sides, and shareables, not mention a full spread of desserts, wines, beers, and cocktails. But it’s the pizzas that’ll make people swoon. The West Side – when it finds this new arrival in its midst – will almost certainly rejoice…

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DINER | A Look Inside “The Abbey”, A New Tavern Opening At The Gates Of Chinatown

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by Andrew Morrison | I toured the construction site of The Abbey late last week. The highly anticipated tavern/gastropub from chef Andrey Durbach, Chris Stewart, and Michel Durocher (see also The Sardine Can, La Buca, Pied-a-Terre), is coming together nicely in the old Wild Rice location at 117 West Pender Street.

Granted, it was a bit odd seeing the iconic space without its defining turquoise, under-lit bar, but I think its replacement – a thick, darkish, acid-treated treated lovely with smooth edges – will gel with the overall vision for the space, which I suspect leans toward the slightly ecclesiastical given The Abbey’s branding, curved staircases, and the inescapable light that pours in from its brace of skylights (I also spied a little stained glass action in the signage – which is now visible to passersby outside).

When it’s finished, we can expect to see the main floor and the front and rear mezzanines set with solid wood chairs and bar stools, plus wood paneling covering up the beige walls. In other words, it’s going to look completely different than how it appears in the images below. I’m imagining a kind of modern, 21st century treatment (as dictated by the existing clean lines of the space) of a late Norman church, of a sort built to house the holy relics of Julia Child instead of the Venerable Bede.

The menu is also under construction, but I’ve gotten wind of a few items that’ll whet the appetite: organic crisp chicken with togarashi pepper and spicy mayo (karaage); Welsh rarebit with melted Lincolnshire Poacher, ale + pickled onion; foie gras torchon with fruit preserves and brioche toast; wild mushrooms on toast; butcher’s cut steak with triple cooked duck fat chips and garlic butter mushrooms; and grilled rare sockeye with warm vegetable + quinoa salad, beet juice, ginger, and walnut oil. I’ve also been told to expect a Fresh Sheet that will bring back some favourites from chef Durbach’s Parkside years.

On the staffing front, we’re glad that Ben de Champlain – formerly of Boneta and the winner of Scout’s Bartender of the Year competition in 2012 – will be holding court at the bar when The Abbey opens later this summer.

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DINER | “Tacofino” Nabs Gastown Location, Set To Open In Blood Alley Before Christmas

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by Andrew Morrison | Gastown’s ancient and long dormant Pig & Whistle location (15 West Cordova) has been attracting plenty interested parties looking to capitalise on the neighbourhood’s rise. It’s nothing short of astounding that nothing has opened there in the last decade. I mean, it’s right next door to the original Boneta and around the corner from Gassy Jack Square with entrances on both West Cordova and Blood Alley. It’s a prime spot – definitely a fixer-upper like so many character buildings in Gastown – and the truth of it is that people have tried to pick it up. A lot of well known restaurateurs have taken good, long, hard looks at it and either balked or bolted. There was even a restaurant company that signed a lease (last year) and then shat the bed by running out of money, thereby leaving a lot of people in the lurch.

Tacofino finally inked their deal a few days ago, and are set to pick up where the last almost-tenant left off. We can confirm that they’re aiming to have the 3,000sqft space set with 80 seats and open to the public by the winter. The main entrance will be in Blood Alley, across a 15 seat patio, but those looking for the food truck experience (Tacofino, you’ll recall, started out as a food truck), can visit the takeaway window that’s being built for the Cordova side.

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I recently visited the space with owners Ryan Spong and Jason Sussman (missing Kaeli Robinsong, who is in Tofino at the moment), GM Gino De Domenico, and chef de cuisine Christine Deyoung, all of whom were excited at the prospect of trying something new with the Tacofino brand. The new menu, Sussman says, “will be inspired by everything that we’ve done so far.” Some favourites – things that have been on their food truck and commissary menus – will stay. I trust, for example, that they won’t mess with their fish taco or their margaritas. That being said, I’m stoked to see what new stuff they come up with, and I’m particularly interested in seeing what a patio looks like in Blood Alley. They’re hoping to start construction soon and plan on having it open before Christmas,. And what a nice present that would be! Check the photos below for a taste of what these guys do…

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DINER | Expect Highly Anticipated “Gyoza Bar” To Also Up Vancouver’s Ramen Game

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by Andrew Morrison | Seigo Nakamura’s highly anticipated Gyoza Bar is framing up rather nicely. During a recent visit to the construction site at 622 West Pender St. with chef de cuisine Michael Acero, general manager Nicola Turner, and corporate chef Kazuya Matsuoka (left to right, above), I got wind of a few appetizing details.

For starters, the 80 seat, 2,600 sqft eatery won’t be hamstrung by the singular focus of just gyozas (as enticing as that may sound). It’ll also be concentrating on ramen, and in myriad ways. Acero and Matsuoka explained that they’ll be offering several different broths, among them the traditional tonkotsu (pork), miso, chicken, vegetable, and – most interesting of all – a tomato seafood essence.

These will be bowled with ramen noodles made in house with the massive (and hugely expensive) “Richmen” machine that I saw still wrapped up in a crate in the middle of the dining room (see photo #2 below). It was just freshly delivered by the noodle-loving engineers at Yamato Mfg. in Japan. It’s pretty cool that the noodle-making process will be something customers can witness close up, and proof enough that Nakamura – who also owns the innovative Miku and Minami restaurants – is looking to lead rather than compete in the local ramen scene.

But back to the gyozas! Let’s talk stuffings. There will by five: one constant made of barley-fed pork that is done in the “imono” teppan-style (cast iron griddle), and four that will change with the seasons. At launch, these will be chicken, short rib and miso, shrimp, and a vegetarian type – each plated in fives. There will also be bao-style sandwiches, a tapas menu of 12 items, salads, and bar program that will see 8 beers and 8 wines on tap, plus 6-7 sakes (natch).

Opening day is still on track for a mid-July, which can’t come soon enough.

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DINER | “Cafe Medina” Lands New Location Downtown, Prepares For Move This August

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by Andrew Morrison | When Scout broke the news that Cafe Medina would be moving this summer, we asked our readership to vote on where they’d like to see the new location of the popular Beatty St. brunch spot. Well over 1,000 of you responded, with Mount Pleasant and the DTES (specifically Gastown, Strathcona, or Chinatown) being your favoured destinations. Alas, owner Robbie Kane is staying close to home, opting for the short-lived Tappo Restobar spot (formerly Q4 al Centro) at 780 Richards Street.

It’s a wise choice, and even though the move takes Medina a few blocks further away from me, I’m thrilled at the prospect. The change will not only increase Medina’s seating capacity to 75 people (up from 65), but it will also allow for a proper bar. And since bars are generally evening fixtures, we can expect the restaurant to eventually expand its operations and start serving dinner, perhaps as soon as this Autumn – and there was much rejoicing.

Further cause for high fives is the assurance from Kane that “all the favourites” will remain on the menu. To me (and Kane confirms this), that means things like the amazing tagine, the fluffy Liege waffles, and the dreamy short rib friccasse with applewood smoked cheddar and arugula. With the move, however, will come significant menu changes. And it’s ok to be anxious about that.  If you love Medina as much as I do, you might even be terrified. My initial fears, however, have since been calmed.

Those who enjoyed the Mother’s Day brunch at Medina may have spied Bittered Sling co-founder/chef Jonathan Chovancek observing operations. That’s because he’s been freshly brought aboard to steer the new Medina’s culinary ship forward. An admitted fan of the restaurant since its launch, Chovancek is very familiar with the existing menu, and is already at work experimenting with new items. “My goal is to slowly incorporate new dishes that will become classics, new favourites,” he says, adding that he’s keen to honour Medina’s legacy.

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Chovancek may have top drawer farm-to-table sensibilities and great relationships with local farmers and producers (one of the best pieces of salmon I’ve ever eaten was prepared by him several years ago out at UBC Farm), but the thing that quiets the anxieties I have about the changes to come is his demonstrated adaptability. By his own account, he’s an “interpretive chef” — he’s not one to be pigeon-holed as a proponent or purveyor of one particular cuisine. And I trust that the pan-Mediterranean/Levantine milieu of Medina won’t prove too difficult for him to unpack, iron out, and wear as if it were tailored to fit.

His experience inspires further confidence. With skills honed at Vancouver Island’s Aerie Resort and Sooke Harbour House, Ontario’s Eigensinn Farm and Avalon, and here in Vancouver via catering outfits like Culinary Capers and Kale & Nori, it’s not as if Chovancek is unfamiliar with high expectations. And it’ll be great to see him behind a line again. Bittered Sling, the company he launched with partner Lauren Mote, is now largely a retail operation that runs itself, so it’s not hard to measure his motivation. “I need to be cooking again,” he says with smile. Too right.

As for the space, don’t read anything into the photos you see above. It’s got high ceilings, windows, an open kitchen, and a bar. Beyond that, there will be next to nothing left of Tappo Restobar when they’re finished with it. Not even the floor is staying. Brian Kane – Robbie’s big brother and a production designer in the film trade for 30 years – is doing a complete overhaul, and I’m very excited to see what he comes up with.

The new Medina is on track to open in August, not long after the original location closes it doors.

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DINER | Ex-Wick Staffers Preparing To Open Casual Eatery “Wolf In The Fog” Next Month

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by Andrew Morrison | I was up in Tofino over the weekend and was able to take a good look inside the construction site of Wolf In The Fog, a two storey eatery soon to open at the gates of town on the corner of Fourth & Campbell. The place has got the small town buzzing, not least of all because it has three ex-Wickaninnish Inn employees – former chef Nick Nutting and FOH staffers Jorge Baradiaran and Andre McGillivray – collaborating as owner-operators. They’re a talented bunch, and the location is as prime as it gets.

Despite the formal trappings of the owners’ shared past (the Wick being a Relais property, after all), Wolf In The Fog is aiming to be decidedly casual casual, especially on the 800 sqft main floor, which will seat 20 indoors (with TVs) and another 18 on the sidewalk patio. The same menu will be shared on the more expansive second floor with its large bar and lounge area (with beer and wine on tap), 60+ seat family-friendly dining room (complete with broken surfboard sculpture), and 38 seat patio. It’s a great-looking space with excellent mill- and metal-work in evidence (I love the smooth curve of the walnut bar), not to mention a killer view.

The upstairs is also home to a dream kitchen that snakes to the back of the building and a rear staff patio for the sweetest of contemplative, mid-rush breaks. As you can see in some of the shots below, Nutting and his cohorts – among them sous chef Martin Dean (ex-Wick, Ensemble) and pastry chef Joel Ashmore (ex-Wick) – can also look out beyond the dining room at the Deadmen Islets and the surrounding (stunning) land/seascape.

Nutting didn’t talk at length about the food, except to say that he really wanted it to be true to the spirit and feel of Tofino, which is about as far away from stuffy as is possible. I’ve eaten his food on several occasions (including in competition), and I know full well that he’s capable of doing amazing and often innovative things with locally sourced ingredients. So while I feel that it’s somewhat of a tragedy that he won’t be using all the tools in his creative bag making sandwiches and the like, I’d be very surprised if they weren’t damn fine sandwiches! What’s more, I don’t think he’ll be able to resist plating the occasional honest expression of his true abilities, which are considerable. It’s in a chef’s nature to show off, if only on occasion.

To round out the casual vibe that Wolf In The Fog is trying to capture, they’ve put together what sounds like a pretty kickass vintage stereo system and lined up a nice collection of vinyl to play, plus they’ve taken a page out of the Mamie Taylor’s playbook and collected colourful vintage, mis-matched tableware from thrift stores in small towns up, down, and all around Vancouver Island.

The team is looking forward to opening at some point in June.

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