by Andrew Morrison | Before I left Vancouver on this lengthy food safari around the American West (follow along here), I checked in on the progress at Wildebeest, which is arguably the most highly anticipated restaurant of 2012. We’ve been keeping tabs of its development since we first reported on it in October of 2011. That was back when owners Josh Pape (The Diamond) and James Iranzad (Abigail’s Party) picked up the 2,400 sqft space at 120 Hastings across from the Woodwards complex…
Here are some shots and words from that original story:
The 100 block of Hastings is on the edge of the DTES proper. It’s been cleaned up a lot in the last year or so, with the scaffolding of renovated buildings having recently being peeled away and SFU Contemporary Arts’ toned and modern buttocks now poking out onto a sizeable stretch of its northern sidewalk. The spot is the main floor of a south side “Heritage B” building just west of Nuba, Meat & Bread, La Taqueria, and Revolver. Newcomers Acme Cafe and Save On Meats are on the next block east (Sean Heather’s Bitter should open there later this month, too). It’s a pretty perfect address, and I trust they got it for a relative song seeing as the block isn’t quite ready – but is nevertheless destined – for prime time. My read is that they couldn’t have chosen any wiser, and that 115 seats won’t be too tricky to fill. If it’s one tenth as popular as I reckon it will be, there will be some who will call Pape and Iranzad “gentrifiers” (which will amuse everyone they know).
After having the rough food concept explained to me, I imagine the kitchen will dish the kind of gutturally expressed but nevertheless refined comfort food that would appeal to carnivorous chefs on their nights off. Think chops, steaks, whole fish, off-cuts, small plates and so on. Think Andrey Durbach, Heidi Noble and Eleanor Chow sitting next to Adam Pegg, Lucais Syme, and Nico Schuermans at the bar drinking proper drinks and being very glad that someone else is doing the cooking. Think Toronto’s Black Hoof and LA’s Animal expressed in Vancouver’s uniquely awesome vernacular (one still hopes for tongue on brioche and BBQ pork belly sandwiches). Think Black Sabbath and early Genesis. I don’t know why, but you should probably just think it.
As for look and feel, I picture a totally feasible set of seeming contradictions: casual but exacting; unpretentious but expert; composed but boisterous; communal but intimate. These guys are two of our best young pros, and they’ll likely attract a top drawer set of staffers, despite the informal set up. The early sketches I’ve seen depict a bar height banquette backing up to the brick and running the length of the wall to create a narrow service corridor between the facing high chairs and the deeply set, 12 seat bar (overseen by Pape, naturally). An open kitchen follows the line of the bar and leads to a proper chef’s table at the rear. It’s a basic composition, but it will lend itself to the desired communal feel of the concept. Back at the front right, the plans call for a short staircase being cut into the floor that will lead down to a 500 sqft, low-ceilinged area with potential for 20 seat private dining. That’s all well and good, but this downstairs space is too cool for exclusivity (reminiscent of a miniaturised Calabash basement). A lot of potential. I’m hoping it morphs into a wine lounge with snacks on unbooked nights.
A month later we revealed that they’d hired on the culinary prowess of David Gunawan, the former executive chef at South Granville’s storied West…
…and then a couple of months later we met up with them for a whirlwind restaurant tour of Los Angeles…
So, where are they now? Despite what it looks like from the shots below, they’re very nearly there. In fact, I’d be surprised if they weren’t up and running before July’s end. I love what they’re doing with the curtain pulleys (rescued from the Pantages Theatre before it was demolished): there are fully 32 of them bolted to the ceiling and running down the long brick wall above 10 four-tops. From each pulley will hang a wire and a single light. These will be staggered at different heights and distances from each other, so I have no clue as to the final effect, except that it will be rather unique. The walls in the front left lounge area are being clad in barn-reclaimed wood (courtesy of Union Wood & Supply Co.), and the bar shelving system is going to be suspended from the ceiling. The bar itself Between it and the wide open kitchen will be a service area and a wine storage unit made from an antique elevator door (it will hold 120 bottles). Beyond the open kitchen will be two communal tables that will seat 12-14 people, one of which will be umbilically attached to the kitchen (a proper “chef’s table”). Meanwhile, the underground wine bar has been framed and fleshed out. It’ll offer bar height seating throughout, a menu of bar snacks, and a nicely put together list of 18 wines by the glass (12 of these will be poured from an oenomatic machine, and two pulled from taps, one of which will be JoieFarm’s outstanding Noble Blend).
All told, it’s coming along nicely and quickly now that all the permits have arrived. I’ve seen the opening menu, and though I don’t want to reveal everything, I will say that they’re doing things like housemade cotechino with rosemary and flageolet beans, poutine with roasted foie gras, oysters with Ardbeg, and all manner of drool-worthy savageness besides. Suffice it to say, I can’t hardly wait.