by Ken Tsui | In the dog days of summer, chef/co-owner Brian Skinner and the kitchen team at Main Street vegetarian mainstay The Acorn are sweating it out as they prepare for another busy night. But before it all goes down, the staff are banding together and keeping to the spirit of making great vegetarian food by tapping into Indian traditions, the O.G. of vegetarian cuisines.
This afternoon’s meal is an elaborate one. It’s a long list scrawled on paper and simply labelled “Indian Staff Meal”. It’s an involved feast with plenty of components that tasks each staffer with making some of the classics, among them raita, papadums, khadi, palak paneer, grilled apricot chutney, mango lassis, pickled eggplant salad and pakoras of zucchini and cauliflower.
Brian leads the charge, guiding the crew based on lessons learned during his time in London. Today, the palak paneer (pureed spinach with crisped Indian cheese) is his responsibility. As the team puts the finishing touches on their respective contributions, the mixture of heat and movement looks and feels like controlled chaos, making it hard to keep track of all the fragrant and colourful plates coming out of the kitchen.
Meanwhile, co-owner Shira Blustein is holding court in the dining area. As the food comes out, the team gathers around her table to feast. Before long, Brian himself gets to lean into the spread. “I have a feeling I’m going to overeat…”
It was four years ago today that Lee Cooper, Paul Grunberg, and Nin Rai opened their critically acclaimed Gastown eatery L’Abattoir at 217 Carrall Street (the original Irish Heather location). Take a look below for behind the scenes images taken during construction, training, and on opening day…
Jack | Legend | For 33 years, before selling out to the Aquilini Family in 2014, Jack Evrensel – known to those in the Industry as “Jack” – bestrode Vancouver’s restaurant scene as a micro-managing colossus. He opened some of the most successful and impactful eateries British Columbia has ever had. These included Araxi (Whistler) in 1981, CinCin in 1990, Blue Water Cafe and West in 2000 (just two months apart), and Thierry in 2011. Many of Vancouver’s top bartenders, servers, sommeliers, managers, and chefs honed their skills working for Jack – so many that they’re hard to count.
“Jack” is also the name of an insufferable corporate radio station owned by Rogers Communications.
Usage: “Jack was like the Wizard of Oz…”
by Andrew Morrison | 55 Dunlevy St. has seen a lot since the Vancouver Urban Winery took it over a couple of years ago. The old railtown address, all 7,700 sqft of it, is home to not only VUW – with its own Roaring Twenties Wine label, retail shop, and 36 tap wine lounge open to the public – but also FreshTAP, the company that brings BC wine to Vancouver’s forward-thinking restaurants serving the stuff on tap. It can be a little confusing with so much going on under one roof, so they’ve gone ahead and rebranded the whole building, sort of as an umbrella moniker. As of this afternoon, it’s called The Settlement Building. The rebrand is just as well, as the place will soon shelter two new companies.
The first of these is a 65 seat eatery called Belgard Kitchen. It’ll offer day/night service, low and cozy hideaway booths, and bar height tables. Overseeing the food program is 19 year Earls veteran, Reuben Major. Together with chef de cuisine Jason Masuch (ex-Brix) and sous chef Mark Reder (ex-Fish Shack), Major plans on serving shareable small plates in the evening (eg. Swiss cheese fondue, bacon mushroom pate) and a larger lunch program that will see sandwiches, chile, soups, salads, slaws, a house special ramen, and a daily crockpot. I looked in on construction yesterday and they were just about to start installing the bulk of their kitchen equipment.
What’s in a name? I had to consult a 20 volume version of the OED to find the answer. It turns out that a belgard came to English (the poets, natch) from the Italian in the 16th century or so, and it means “a kind and loving look.” ”The team felt the meaning captured what they’re all about and what guests through the doors can expect,” The Settlement’s PR person, Kate MacDougall, explained. “It’s their everyday disposition – made easier, I’m sure, surrounded by wine – and their service style.”
Opening Day for Belgard Kitchen is set for the middle of April.
The second new company in The Settlement Building is a microbrewery called Postmark Brewing. It’s being led by managing director Nate Rayment, formerly of Howe Sound Brewing, while the “brew chief” is none other than polymath Craig Noble, who made the engrossing 2007 Tableland documentary (also the brother of JoieFarm‘s Heidi Noble).
Postmark will produce four sessionable beers that will be available for growler purchase/refill, on tap (one presumes) 20 feet away at Belgard Kitchen, and in local beer-loving restaurants around town. If all goes according to plan, we’ll be drinking their first beers in June.
The one catch to it all is that FreshTAP is moving out to make room for Postmark, which matters not to the public because it never provided any on-site services to the end consumer. In the grand scheme of things, however, it’s worth noting that the little company with the big idea of selling local wine in steel kegs to local eateries has already outgrown its nursery (slow clap all around). They’re looking at options for a new and scaleable space as we speak. Good luck, and well done indeed.
Staff Meal is a new column by Ken Tsui. The photo essays will detail the stories behind the family-style meals that some of Vancouver’s busiest restaurant crews get either before or after service.
by Ken Tsui | Before service, the team at Railtown’s Ask for Luigi rallies for their staff meal. Chef and owner Jean-Christophe Poirier and cook Edward Jordan decide to nostalgic for their days together at Pizzeria Farina, Poirier’s sister restaurant. They begin by rolling out some tempered dough while general manager Matthew Morgenstern does his mise en place for a Caesar salad. In the back, Ales, a former dishwasher-turned-kitchen apprentice is on “smoothie duty”. He puts together a different fresh fruit smoothie every day in the chef’s bid for a healthier staff meal. Today, it’s a delicious melange of blueberries, pineapple, mint and blood orange. Within half an hour, a variety of pizzas are passed around, smoothies are poured, and the salad is mixed tableside. A strong sense of family pervades the room as the team takes a moment to enjoy their meal and each other’s company before the first tables arrive.
This good looking Makoto Ono starter dish currently on the menu at Pidgin on the DTES is a wee delicacy of delicacies: exquisite mushrooms, fresh snap peas, ooze-suspended ramen eggs – all set off in the mouth by a soy yuzu brown butter that just doesn’t quit. | $12
350 Carrall St. | Vancouver, BC | 604-620-9400 | www.pidginvancouver.com
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 Wildebeest
Vancouver, BC | Wildebeest is looking to hire an experienced leader to manage weekend brunches. The ideal applicant has local experience in brunch/breakfast service and is available to begin this month. Hours would be 9am to 4pm with competitive compensation and a benefits plan. Please note that this is a part-time position, limited – for the time being – to weekend brunches only. It would be well suited to an individual looking for supplemental employment in a progressive, delicious restaurant. Please email resume and cover letter in confidence to eat [at] wildebeest.ca. Read more
Staff Meal is a new column by Ken Tsui. The photo essays will detail the stories behind the family-style meals that some of Vancouver’s busiest restaurant crews get either before or after service.
by Ken Tsui | After a busy service on a Saturday night at Chinatown’s award-winning Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie, executive chef Joel Watanabe cranks out one final meal. Tonight, it’s his take on tostadas, and it’s for his staff. Think crispy tortillas topped with a healthy dose of cumin seasoned black beans, tomato sauce, melted cheese, guacamole, and shredded lettuce all dressed with lime and a pico de gallo salsa. Tostadas were one of the family classics in the Watanabe household when Joel was a kid. He and his brother were hooked, both invariably asking for the treat to be a part of every birthday meal. In the spirit of sibling rivalry, they even devoured the fully loaded tostadas competitively, with Joel holding the household record of fourteen eaten in one sitting.
The GOODS from Nicli Antica Pizzeria
Vancouver, BC | Everyone knows that the Italians are a passionate people – legendary lovers, great artists, superb wine-makers and amazing cooks who insist on only the finest ingredients. They don’t do anything by half measures and throw their heart and soul into the fine art of living well.
Starting Monday, March 3rd, Nicli will give you the opportunity to wine and dine like a true passionale Italian. Nicli is combining its amore of fine vino and Neapolitan pizza in a special three-course prix fixe Pizza Appassionato Menu for Two priced at $45. Each menu includes a shared antipasti, two pizzas and dessert. The Pizza Appassionato Menu is available only Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for either lunch or dinner and it will change weekly to reflect the seasonal availability of ingredients.
If that isn’t enough to set your heart a-flutter, each time a Pizza Appassionato Menu for Two is purchased, one name will be entered into a monthly draw to win a very special bottle of wine. Each month will showcase a different wine and the odds of winning depend solely on how many menus are sold during that month. March’s wine is a very special bottle – Flaccianello delle Pieve 2009 (100 per cent Sangiovese) which retails for $250. The only stipulation is that the wine must be enjoyed with your next meal at Nicli.
Monthly draws will take place at 4pm on the last Friday of the month and winners will be notified within 24 hours. Winners will also be posted to our Facebook page. Details after the jump… Read more
The GOODS from Tacofino
Vancouver, BC | The Tacofino Commissary is still accepting holiday party bookings, including for New Year’s Eve. With a few weeks left in the holiday season, there is still time to organize a get-together to enjoy Tacofino’s delicious offerings. A totally customizable menu combined with a laid-back and casual setting provides a fun and warm environment to let loose and enjoy the holiday season. How loose? Well, that’s up to you. And if you are having a hard time finding that unique catering experience, inquire about how you can have the Tacofino truck come to you by contacting Laura at laura.tacofino [at] gmail.com. Read more
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 Wildebeest
Vancouver, BC | On Tuesday, November 12th, Wildebeest will present our second bourbon supper in our ongoing series of pairing dinners. Join us in our private dining room for a welcome cocktail followed by five delicious courses, each paired with a different delicious bourbon from the house of Buffalo Trace. This time, think Eagle Rare, W.L. Weller, Ridgemont 1792, and other beauties served straight up or as a cocktail best suited to each course. And here’s what you’ll be enjoying with those lovely liquids…
THE BUFFALO & THE BEEST
Sawmill Bay oysters, candied lemon, bourbon mist
- W.L. Weller ‘Wheated’ Bourbon – Pig’s head terrine, porcini mushrooms, smoked quail egg
- Sazerac 6 Year Rye – Lamb tartare, heritage onions, horseradish emulsion, mustard seed gastrique
- Buffalo Trace Bourbon – Line-caught local cod, baby cabbage, sea urchin
- Buffalo Trace ‘Bensonhurst’ – Charred brassica, smoked ricotta, wheatberries
- Eagle Rare 10 Year – Aged pigeon, sunchokes, pear & chestnut sauce
- Ridgemont Reserve 1792 – East Van Roasters chocolate, parsnip pannacotta, walnut crumb
Tickets are $75, and very limited, available via email: eat [at] wildebeest.ca. Read more
The GOODS from Market by Jean-Georges
Vancouver, BC | MARKET by Jean-Georges is pleased to welcome new faces to its team. Montgomery Lau, former Senior Sous Chef at MARKET, has been promoted to Chef de Cuisine, and David Auer, former General Manager at Le Gavroche, has been named MARKET’s new Restaurant Manager.
Montgomery Lau, Chef de Cuisine | Montgomery Lau has come a long way from shopping in the local fresh foods markets in Hong Kong with his mother. Lau grew up in Hong Kong, where weekly dim sum outings made up a huge part of his childhood memories.
Lau later moved to Vancouver and grew up around the diversity that the city has to offer. This exposed him to foods from around the world. After a decision to turn his passion into a career, Lau enrolled at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. This led him to working at his first culinary job at French restaurant L’Emotion.
Lau joined the opening team for the MARKET by Jean-Georges after completing his apprenticeship. While preparing for the Winter Olympics of 2010, Lau was recruited for the opening of the new Westin Wall Centre at the Vancouver Airport and in 2011, Lau was chosen to represent B.C. and contend for the title of ‘Canada’s Chef of the Year’ at the National Chefs’ Conference.
Lau returned to MARKET as Senior Sous Chef in 2012 where his love for international flavours combined with his passion for local and produce was a perfect fit. Proving himself to be a talented chef whose culinary philosophy mirrors that of Jean-Georges Vongerichten himself, Lau has been promoted to Chef de Cuisine. As the leader now in the kitchen, Lau is committed to working with his team and local producers to delivering top notch product that honors the restaurant’s namesake and gives local Vancouver residents and visitors a truly world class experience.
David Auer, Restaurant Manager | After working his way through some of the Europe’s finest restaurants, David Auer has taken the helm as Restaurant Manager at MARKET by Jean-Georges. Bringing with him a depth of industry experience and education, Auer looks forward to exploring new opportunities and sharing with the new team his deep passion for food, wine and hospitality.
Upon completion of his Restaurant Management and Hospitality Diploma as well as his Sommelier Diploma in Wine & Cheese from the Gastronomic Catering Business School in Vienna, Auer went on to work throughout Austria and Switzerland in top restaurants including Gueard Val, and Restaurant Edelweis in the Löwen Hotel Schruns where he was at the time, the youngest Michelin star restaurant manager in the country.
After falling in love with his future wife, Auer followed her to a job in Vancouver where he started at the Divino Wine Bar as General Manager and later moved to Uva Winebar & Cibo Trattoria. Prior starting at MARKET, Auer was positioned as General Manager at Le Gavroche.
Known as an innovator, Auer is unafraid to try new things and to challenge the status quo. Auer wants to create experiences that people will remember. Whether it is visits from high profile chefs, restaurants swaps or unique restaurant promotions, guests of MARKET by Jean-Georges can look forward to memorable meals and an exciting calendar of events to come. Read more