by Andrew Morrison | There have been rumblings about this for several months, but today it’s official. As of this morning, the Aquilini Group is now in full possession of Toptable, the collection of eateries developed over the past 33 years by legendary Vancouver restaurateur Jack Evrensel. The official announcement will be released to the media this afternoon.
Evrensel opened some of the most successful and impactful eateries we’ve ever had. These included them Araxi (Whistler) in 1981, CinCin in 1990, Blue Water Cafe and West in 2000 (two months apart), and Thierry in 2011. Many of Vancouver’s top bartenders, servers, sommeliers, managers, and chefs honed their skills under the Toptable umbrella – so many that they’re hard to count. And the staff they currently have on payroll are some of the best in the business.
“Our team has never been stronger nor this rich in talent,” Evrensel is quoted as saying in the official news release that is coming out this afternoon. He attributes this to the commitment and passion of the company’s “award-winning chefs, renowned restaurant and wine directors, and dedicated employees,” but at least some of the credit needs to be pointed his way. I’ve seen perhaps one of two restaurateurs in my life who are as dedicated to the higher standards of hospitality. What has set Jack apart, however, has been his penchant for managing from the background. There’s never been any personal glory-basking or attention-seeking. In all the years that I’ve been reporting on restaurants, I’ve managed to take his photo just once, at an Araxi long table supper on Pemberton’s North Arm Farm several years ago (see above). I remember him shifting his weight to one leg and tilting his head as if to say, “Aw, c’mon” like a little kid. I trust that he’s doing that right now as he reads this.
Evrensel will stay for the next three months in a consulting role to help manage the transition, and operations will continue as normal. On the phone yesterday, he couldn’t tell me what he was going to do after that. “I really don’t know. I’ve never really had a five year plan. I go with the flow. I’m at peace. I don’t know the future, and that’s the way I like it.”
I don’t expect the Aquilini Group – a real estate, development, renewable energy, sports, and entertainment behemoth - will mess around with a good thing. The managers currently in place at every Toptable property are at the top of their game, so the maintenance of the status quo sounds ideal.
All I know for certain is that Jack deserves a round of applause, not only for a long career of excellence, but also for finding and locking down the one deep-pocketed buyer who could afford to take his considerable life’s work off his hands.
Terms of the deal are not being disclosed.
The GOODS from CinCin
Vancouver, BC | Since his return to Vancouver last year, Executive Chef Andrew Richardson has brought CinCin’s award-winning cuisine to new heights – while Restaurant Director Richard Luxton and his service team deliver unparalleled dining experiences to each guest. Choose from authentic Roman wood-fired pizzas, daily rotisserie additions, handmade pastas and Ocean Wise seafood – all executed with Chef Richardson’s Michelin-trained signature techniques. From quick power-lunches with friends to intimate client meetings and leisurely celebrations, the team at CinCin will make your weekday lunch plans both memorable and seamless. And with the arrival of spring comes the reopening of our heated terrace… Read more
The GOODS from CinCin, Araxi, West, & Blue Water Café
Vancouver & Whistler, BC | This autumn we are pleased to present five extraordinary wine dinners at Araxi, Blue Water Cafe, CinCin and West. Our award-winning chefs will craft multi-course tasting menus to complement each evening’s progression of wines. Senior representatives from select wineries will speak to the history and terroir of their estates and winemaking methods. Get all the details on these unmissable evenings after the jump… Read more
The GOODS from CinCin, Araxi, West, & Blue Water Café
Vancouver & Whistler, BC | Toptable Group is pleased to announce the release of Foxtrot Vineyards ‘The Waltz’ 2010 blended pinot noir, which will be available exclusively at Blue Water Cafe, Araxi, West, and CinCin beginning September 18th. It follows on the success of last year’s release of Toptable’s ‘Director’s Blend’.
The Waltz is a Pinot Noir blend from three Foxtrot blocks located on the Naramata Bench, and from vine stocks ranging in age from five to 23 years. Complex fermentation and varied aging in oak have led to a ‘vibrant wine with fresh aromas of dark chocolate, black cherry, raspberry and violet—with spicy notes on the finish,’ says Gustav Allander, Foxtrot’s head winemaker. ‘The Waltz has classic pinot noir earthiness, and strikes a perfect harmony between power and elegance with silky tannins and beautiful red fruit characteristics,’ he adds.
The Waltz was blended in collaboration with Toptable’s expert wine directors: Owen Knowlton of West, Andrea Vescovi of Blue Water Cafe, Dave Marchand of CinCin, and Samantha Rahn of Araxi. The wine was created with a view of providing ‘absolute friendship with food’, says Vescovi with Knowlton adding “We are extremely excited about this exclusive collaboration with Foxtrot Vineyards and look forward to sharing The Waltz with our guests.” The limited supply of just 100 cases of The Waltz will be available in Toptable restaurants while supplies last.
The GOODS from CinCin, Araxi, West, & Blue Water Café
Vancouver & Whistler, BC | If cherry blossoms herald spring across the province, in British Columbia’s culinary industry, the change of seasons is marked by the Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards. Now in their 23rd year, and unique in Canada, the awards were convened on a fitting spring day – Monday, April 23rd – at the Sheraton Wall Centre. A panel of 18 judges acknowledged industry excellence as Araxi, Blue Water Cafe, CinCin, West and Thierry were honoured before an audience of leading restaurateurs, chefs, and service professionals. Details after the jump… Read more
The GOODs from Thierry
Vancouver, BC | Following in the tradition of the international association Relais Desserts and other macaron festivals around the world, on Tuesday, March 20th, Thierry Chocolaterie Pâtisserie Café will celebrate ‘Jour du Macaron’. Ten per cent of all macaron proceeds from this day, while supplies last, will be donated towards Growing Chefs! Chefs for Children’s Urban Agriculture.
Chef Thierry has a long-established following for his macarons, using a signature combination of fresh seasonal fruits and fine artisanal ingredients. Then, since opening last August, macarons have become a highly desirable item at Thierry, literally flying off the shelves. “We want to celebrate both the joy of this simple pleasure, as well as a great cause,” says Chef Thierry. “We invite all of our friends to drop by the shop and join in the fête.” Learn more about the cafe after the jump… Read more
The GOODS from CinCin, Araxi, West, Blue Water Café
Vancouver & Whistler, BC | Top Table Group’s restaurant wine lists were once again saluted at the 9th Annual Wine List Awards Luncheon convened earlier this afternoon during the 34th annual Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. In attendance at the Luncheon were Top Table wine directors Samantha Rahn (Araxi), as well as Andrea Vescovi (Blue Water Cafe) and Owen Knowlton (West), each of whom has previously been awarded ‘Sommelier of the Year’, in 2009 and 2011 respectively. Blue Water Cafe and West were two of only six restaurants awarded with the highest Platinum Wine List Award, while Araxi and CinCin Araxi and CinCin were among a distinguished group to win the Gold designation. Read more
The GOODS from Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar
Vancouver, BC | Executive Chef Frank Pabst’s eighth annual Unsung Heroes Festival takes pride of place at Vancouver’s multiple award-winning Blue Water Cafe throughout the month of February. Chef Pabst, who has won many culinary distinctions, has long been a champion of the sustainable fisheries movement. He created the Unsung Heroes Festival specifically to draw attention to the diversity of formerly under-utilized species. His concept is simple: Avoid species that are over-fished, or fished in ways that damage ocean beds or cause unnecessary by-catch, by introducing diners to new experiences and flavours using species found in abundance.
Since then, the Festival has become ‘wildly popular’ at Blue Water Cafe, as avid diners seek out new dishes, as well as returning favourites from Unsung Heroes past.
“Eight years ago, this was quite a radical concept,” Pabst says. “But now our guests are well-informed as to just how delicious and nutritional some of these lesser-known seafoods can be. I’m delighted that we’ve been able to introduce them in the mainstream.” Again this year, 10% of proceeds will be donated to the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise sustainable seafood program, of which Blue Water Cafe is a founding member. Take a look at the menu after the jump… Read more
The GOODS from West Restaurant
Vancouver, BC | Since its opening more than a decade ago, West has been a place of quiet evolution, setting benchmarks with its unique coastal cuisine that speaks to where we live. And now, with the appointment of Quang Dang as executive chef, the introduction of his new menu and recent décor enhancements, West continues to evolve. “We really wanted to add another dimension to West,” says proprietor Jack Evrensel. “The addition of the Elements section introduces a wider range for the menu. It provides another way to enjoy West on a daily basis, for a casual bite on the way home from the office, or simply as an informal meeting place in the neighbourhood,” he added. Read more
by Claire Lassam | My love affair with hazelnuts started when I was very young. I don’t remember having them around the house, and as an Ontario girl, I don’t remember them growing around where I lived. What I do remember is Nutella.
I vividly recall the first time I ate it. It was a big spoonful shoved into my mouth by my Dad to make me shut up in the back of our car after a early morning run to Little Italy. I remember the chocolate, the instant rush of sugar, but mostly I remember the taste of hazelnuts. Now, despite 56 roasted hazelnuts per jar and a whole cup of skim milk, I can’t keep Nutella in my house. I’m far too addicted to the stuff to keep it anywhere near, so I get my fix in smaller doses elsewhere.
You can’t even imagine my happiness when I moved here a few years back and found that not only were there beaches and mountains, but also hazelnuts! Consider me sold, Vancouver. Now, Nutella has been produced since 1963 (and a slight variation from Ferrero was produced beginning in 1944), which seems like a long time, but when you consider that archeologists have found traces of hazelnuts in Scotland that date back 9000 years, well, half a century seems only a blink of an eye.
Hazelnuts were grown in Ancient Rome; they were given to the sailors and explorers of England because of their long shelf-life; fhey have been flavouring liqueurs in Italy for over 300 years; and more recently, they’ve been used as food for Oregonian hogs to make some of the best prosciutto to ever come out of North America. BC makes up a very small part of the hazelnut trade. They’re mostly grown in Agassiz, where we only produce about 330,000 kilos a year. In contrast, Turkey cleans up with 625,000 tonnes a year, which is about 75% of the global market.
Those grown here are still the best I’ve ever eaten. They’re often thinner then commercial filberts; slightly longer with a crunchier texture and a stronger, more pronounced flavour. And they just so happen to be in season right now.
At home, I often pulse them with basil and lemon zest in my food processor and pour the resulting pesto on everything from pork roast to pasta, or I grind them up and put them in cakes or macarons. If you feel like having someone else do the work for you, get into West on South Granville for hazelnut spaetzle with pork, or get the duck breast at Boneta, which is served with brussel sprouts and local hazels. One of my new favourite chocolatiers, Beta5, caramelizes them and enrobes them in Michel Cluizel chocolate, and those things are pretty close to heaven my books. And of course there’s the masterful Thierry Busset, who uses hazelnuts over and over again in his Alberni St. store. You can snag some in his financiers, tuiles and sable cookies, and in his macarons as well. And if you can’t get enough, you can make them at home now, because he has very kindly given us a recipe… Read more
Celebrity chef Mark McEwan was in town a couple of nights ago promoting his new book, Fabbrica, so Barbara-Jo McIntosh’s Books To Cooks arranged for CinCin chef Todd Howard to prepare several dishes from its pages. You can read the menu full here, complete with all-Italian wine pairings. Howard’s cooking was really top drawer (particularly the steelhead with clams and sausage), but I still can’t stop thinking about the deconstructed tiramisu by pastry chef Christophe Bonzon. I will never look at the ubiquitous dessert the same way again. A few more shots from the meal below…
We’ve invited Thierry to join our GOODS section as a recommended local business that is worth checking out. They’re now proud members of Scout, and as such we’ll be posting their news front and center and hosting a page for them on our curated list of independent goodnesses. We’d like to take this chance to thank them for their support of Scout, and for making Vancouver a more delicious place to live!
Finally made it over to Thierry, the new atelier/shop from Top Table and long-time CinCin dessert guru Thierry Busset. Outstanding coffee well pulled? Check. Well-heeled clientele accidentally spitting sugar into cell phones? Check. Perfect palmiers, sablés, cigarette tuiles, and all manner of baked goods that will blow you away? Quadruple check! Service was quick and without incident, and the patio was a people watching paradise. If you haven’t been, go.