by Andrew Morrison | The new building at 60 West Cordova (off Abbott) in Gastown is going to see a 90 seat eatery called Tuc Craft Kitchen open on its ground floor at some point this Spring (if the planets align and all goes according to plan, it could be up and running as soon as late March).
It’s the second project from restaurateurs Colin Ross and James MacFarlane, who together own the Milestones location at Cambie and 8th. Joining them is chef Roy Flemming, a local hotel veteran (Radisson, Wall Center) who came out west via several restaurants in Montreal (Le Marais, Le Vieux Pecheur).
Nice guys, and industry lifers, too. I met Flemming and MacFarlane at their busy construction site the other day, and from what I gathered it sounds like they’re aiming to serve fun but sophisticated comfort food, with the menu changing as often as the seasons. The word “local” was thrown around, too, and in context with ingredients. Permit me my doubts. In the restaurant business, there are few terms more abused than “local” these days. The original usage of it is badly wounded, run over by a Sysco truck and then shot in the knees by a green-washing PR hack just doing his job. I can’t say if that’s the case with Tuc, but let’s just say I’ll believe it when I see them buying CSA subscriptions and building relationships with local farmers.
Regardless of the sourcing, the food still sounded promising. ”It’s like you go to a friend’s house for dinner and that friend is a chef,” MacFarlane explained. When pressed for dish examples, he and Flemming offered up hanger steak bourguignon (a “deconstruction”), parsnip fritters, pork belly, crackling (mmm), tagine, and so on, with many of them served in cast iron skillets. Price points should be in the $3-$22 range, with a rib-eye likely coming in below $30. As far as their cocktail program is concerned, I think they’re looking for speed of execution above all else (ie. not the place to order an Old Fashioned).
Like I said, it all sounds tasty enough. The only thing that has me wary is the branding. The graphic looks like it was designed for a construction subsidiary of Concord Pacific (reminiscent of Yaletown’s R.TL), and the name itself – Tuc Craft Kitchen – is on the weak side of lame. It’s the word “tuck” – as in “tuck into some food” or “tuck shop” – but with the letter “K” removed for no good reason that I can fathom except for the vague hope that it might make it cooler. (Because, you know…Gastown.) I’m also assuming that the “Craft Kitchen” suffix is merely a redundant reminder to all comers that the restaurant actually has a kitchen, and that cooking is indeed a craft. I further suspect that they’re just a couple of pointless marketing buzzwords, and when you attach two buzzwords to a third word minus a perfectly good consonant, that makes three buzzwords, and three buzzwords are always better than just one. Or something.
But what’s in a name? They could have called it something much worse, like Social Tasting Kitchen Wet Bar & Secret Gastro Craft Resto Lounge, and we all would have laughed deep and long and heartily (I just trademarked that, Gershkowitz, so back the hell off). The truth is that there are plenty of horrifically named restaurants in Vancouver that are well worth a visit. It’s just that if the food, service, and atmosphere invite derision as easily as the identity does, then the market will do what it did to Space Lounge, Shaken Not Stirred, and other recent disasters — it will studiously avoid the address except to giggle at it from a safe distance in spasms of schadenfreude.
How likely is that scenario? Not very, because the safe money is on Gastown these days. If a place serving Red Bull-flavoured chicken wings can thrive and the laughable Secret Location has yet to burn down in an insurance scam, then anything is possible. What’s more, considering how the owners all come from the tightly controlled world of corporate restaurants, they probably have their systems dialed in like a diamond mine’s.
The space itself is full of opportunity: a long, thin concrete box with very high ceilings. To dress it up, they’re employing a lot of materials that they reclaimed from a recent demolition on 2nd Avenue. “We have old growth fir planks, tongue and groove yellow cedar and fir; all formerly structural and floor materials” MacFarlane says. He adds that the south and east walls of the restaurant will be covered in old tin found on a farm in Oregon. The closed kitchen at the back looks tiny, but it’s big enough to do the job. Above it is a freshly constructed mezzanine that will end up seating 30. A 10 stool bar faces the remaining 50 seats in the main floor’s dining room. Big picture windows at the front will bring in at least some natural light, which should make the fir, cedar, and tin rather happy.
As you can see from the shots above and renderings below, they still have a ways to go…
Andrew Morrison is the editor-in-chief of Scout and BC’s Senior Judge at the Canadian Culinary Championships. He contributes regularly to a wide range of publications, radio programs, and TV shows on local food, culture and travel. He live and works in the vibrant Strathcona neighbourhood, where he also collects inexpensive things and enjoys birds, skateboards, whisky, shoes, many songs, and the smell of wood fires.