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!
The GOODS from L’Abattoir
Vancouver, BC | Originally offering an evenings-only menu, Gastown’s French inspired L’Abattoir restaurant will now be opening its doors earlier to include lunch during the week.
From Monday to Friday between 11:30 and 2:30 a simple and elegant menu has been crafted to please afternoon appetites. The classic and clean flavours that characterize L’Abattoir’s nightly fare have been carried onto their lunchtime menu. Highlights include Steelhead served with fried potatoes, dill and horseradish; a shrimp, tomato and potato frittata finished in creamy hollandaise and peppery arugula; and a beef dip with tongue, salad, thickly cut fries and jus gras for dipping. Diners can choose between a two or three course menu or select a meal a la carte.
Behind the bar, resident expert Shaun Layton has designed some new cocktail creations to compliment lunchtime dining. This includes the House Aperol Spritz, which bottles charged white wine with Aperol, seltzer and orange, as well as their daily feature Vermouth on the rocks served with a seasonal garnish. In homage to the power lunches of the past, a martini also graces the midday menu, made with Tanqueray 10, Dolin Dry and pickled onions. Non-alcoholic options include daily bottled house made iced teas and bottled cold brewed JJ Bean coffee.
Lunch aside; L’Abattoir is also pleased to announce the debut of their private dining room. This 1,200 sq ft. facility is situated just adjacent to the regular dining room and features historical architectural elements complimented by a contemporary design aesthetic. Exposed brick walls, beamed ceilings and steel framed windows speak to the history of the space while sleek glass, steel accents and custom chandeliers add a modern finish.
Entering through the kitchen the vintage Bonnet range oven takes center stage and denotes the quality dining experience awaiting guests. While large enough for 50 people seated or 80 standing, the room retains an intimate ambiance and a noise-reducing barrier blocks out the nightly hustle and bustle of the regular dining room. Basked in ample natural light, the private dining room at L’Abattoir is an elegant space with old world charm easily suited for any occasion, from private gatherings and celebrations to corporate functions and meetings. Read more
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.
by Michelle Sproule | Have you ever had one of those experiences when you start thinking about how good an Earnest Ice Cream sundae is and you get so besotted with the memory of it that you get in your car and drive half way across town fully prepared to wait in a ridiculously long line up just to taste it only to realize that it’s Monday night and you have to wait all the way until Thursday before the tiny storefront opens it’s doors for service? Yeah, me too.
It’s not that they’re trying to torture us ice cream fiends. They have, it should be noted, distributed jars of their ice cream to numerous locations throughout the city where you can purchase it on any day of the week to pacify your cravings. The limited hours in the Fraserhood are out of necessity. They use that rest of the time (and all the space) to make the ice cream that will meet demand through the rest of the week.
Their smashing success has made the maintenance of the status quo impossible, so owners Ben Ernst and Erica Bernardi have decided to expand. They’ve just taken possession of the old Organic Lives space at 1829 Quebec Street on the corner of 2nd Avenue, where Mount Pleasant meets Olympic Village. When it comes on line this winter, this will be their main production space, though it will have a small retail component as well, which is to say we can walk in off the street and score ice cream by the scoop. The expansion also means that both locations will eventually be open for at least 6 days a week.
Right now, plans have been submitted to the city and they are just waiting for their permits. Though significantly larger, the new design will be similar to the Fraserhood location in layout and aesthetic (white walls, wood beams, brick — an uncomplicated, product-focused environment), plus there will be windows allowing customers to look into the production facility, which will take up the majority of the floor space.
The best case scenario for their opening date would be some point in December, but early 2015 is probably more realistic. Take a look inside…
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 Andrew Morrison | Following up on the success of their Chinatown pop-up, Lukes General Store is set to open a permanent location at 49 West Hastings on the Downtown Eastside. If the address doesn’t ring a bell, that’s because it’s the brand new glass, concrete, and steel mid-rise between the Acme Cafe and Save On Meats. It hasn’t fronted a tenant until now.
“Vancouver has been really great to us”, says owner Gareth Lukes, whose family has operated Calgary fixture Lukes Drug Mart since 1951.” We love being here. There is so much great energy in this city right now and great communities with a lot of interest in the products and experiences we offer.”
The move to the larger, fixed address will allow Lukes to broaden their retail offerings and table a cafe experience featuring donuts from nearby Cartem’s Donuterie and coffee from the Bay Area’s highly regarded Four Barrel. If you’re unfamiliar with the brand, it’s the outstanding stuff they brew at San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery. This will be the first time their beans will see retail action in Canada.
For the shop’s shelves, Dry Goods Manager Veronika Rezucha (formerly of Lark on Main) will be bringing in bars from Mast Brothers Chocolate and products from Malin + Goetz Apothecary, Baxter of California Shaving, Juniper Ridge, Pendleton Woolen Mills, and McClure’s Pickles (to name just a few). Music aficionado Shaun Cowan, formerly of Scratch Records, is on board to manage the store’s vinyl selection.
And speaking of music, it sounds like we’ll be hearing plenty of it at Lukes. From an imminent press release:
“We have a reputation in Calgary as a key part of the music and culture scene. Not only is it a cool spot to hang out and buy music, but we’ve thrown great events and free concerts there with artists such as Shad, Rural Alberta Advantage, and Ladyhawk,” says Aaron Schubert, who, in addition to setting up Lukes’ Vancouver location, has deep roots in the local music scene as manager of the the Pack AD as well as booking venues such as the Biltmore Cabaret and the Rickshaw Theatre. “We’re definitely looking forward to doing some similar music and art events at the new Hasting Street location. We’re really excited to become a permanent fixture of Vancouver’s exciting and diverse cultural scene.”
Construction is already underway. If all goes according to plan, the doors will open in September.
by Andrew Morrison | Good news, taco lovers. Los Cuervos Taqueria is set to expand into the old Che Baba yoga studio space next door. The Fraserhood eatery has been in possession of the umbilically-attached 600 sqft address since it opened last year, but it had to jump through several laborious permit hoops to get this green light. The expansion will effectively double Los Cuervos’ seating capacity to 50. The design toes the line of the original, but it does have some unique flourishes, such as a new bar and light fixtures made out of cedar reclaimed from an old shed that they dismantled at the back of the property. As far as offerings are concerned, barman Mark Gunther (Biltmore, Minami) is being brought on board to amplify the drinks card (more agave-centric cocktails), while the menu, I hope/imagine, will remain loaded with all manner of out of the ordinary taco creations. The launch is set for mid-September (fingers crossed). Take a look…
With the highly anticipated opening of the new Cafe Medina set for this Tuesday at 780 Richards Street, the restaurant’s kitchen crew and front of house team took Saturday to get in some practice with friends and family. The special “dry run” service saw delivery of chef Jonathan Chovancek’s new menu and our first look at the new interior by designer Brian Kane. Take a look below…
by Andrew Morrison | Though it won’t be open until the early Autumn, “Au Comptoir” should be on every Vancouver food-lover’s radar. The 50 seat restaurant currently under construction at 2278 West 4th Avenue in Kitsilano is being launched by Maxime Bettili and Julien Aubin, two old friends who met at hospitality school in France 17 years ago. The front of house veterans toiled at cafes and brasseries in France before moving to Vancouver nearly five years ago. Aubin has been a fixture at Les Faux Bourgeois in the Fraserhood ever since, while Bettili has worked at Bistro Pastis, Les Faux Bourgeois, Jules Bistro, and The Acorn.
What’s in a name? Au Comptoir translates as “at the counter/bar” — an honorific of the universal restaurant industry practise of always dining at the bar. Oh, and Au Comptoir will sport a gorgeous tin bar, built especially for them in France. The only other one of its kind in Canada is the absolute thing of beauty at Toronto’s Le Select.
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.
The look is going to be a little different, too. Aside from the stunning bar alluded to above, expect custom-built tables made out of antique sewing machines, a pair of skylights soaking the room with natural light, and accordion-style folding front windows bringing the outside in. They’ve only just begun construction, so the images below will only give you a hint of the aesthetic to come, but I’m imagining a very social environment. It’s a good location.
As far as food is concerned, I’m not privy to the extent of the menu, but in our conversations to date I’ve heard mention of foie gras burgers, “bavette” steaks, magret de canard à l’orange, club and croque-style sandwiches, and pastries galore (the latter made in-house by Franck Buiron, formerly of Blue Water Cafe). It all sounds good. They’ll also have a simple list of cocktails, beers and 5/5 wines by the glass, plus a reserve list for those whose tastes have deeper pockets.
These guys sound like they know exactly what they want out of their first business, and that’s a thick slice of the country they left behind. This is perfectly understandable. They’re a long way from home, and that’s lucky for us, as the zeal with which they’re keen to shorten the distance will likely translate deliciously on our plate and in our glasses.
While West 4th already has it’s fair share of French-themed eateries, I don’t think “market over-saturation” arguments apply in the case of Au Comptoir. It has all the makings of an original, one that should draw in the curious from beyond Kits. As long as the execution is there – and we should have no reason to doubt it considering the owners’ pedigrees – I have my hopes up for good things.
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).
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!
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.
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…
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!