Long-time service industry veterans Van Doren Chan and Darren Gee have a deal in place that will see them take over the Merchant’s Workshop space at 1590 Commercial Drive after it closes in mid-August. With it, they aim to open a new Asian street food concept called Ugly Dumpling in the first week of September.
“The name of the restaurant is pretty self explanatory,” Van Doren tells me, reminding me that “food doesn’t always need to look good to taste good.” She’s definitely correct on that front. (The phenomenon works both ways, too, as food doesn’t always have to taste good to look good.) What ever the case, Ugly Dumpling is an attractive proposition.
The mention of first timers Van Doren and Darren helming a new restaurant project together should cause Vancouver diners to sit up and pay attention. If they don’t recognise her from her front-of-house roles at Le Crocodile or Hawksworth, it could be from Salt Tasting Room, the Opus Hotel, or up at Meyer Family Vineyard in the Okanagan. As for Darren, he was a kitchen fixture at the multiple award-winning Farmer’s Apprentice for four years, the last two as sous chef. Before that, the PICA grad did three years of training at Le Crocodile. Most recently, he honed his Japanese food chops at Kinome before its closure this past Spring (he has also lived and worked in Japan). They both have that rare combination of special skill sets that are often key to making worthwhile restaurants. It’s certainly why I’m paying attention, and why I think you should be too. Watch this space.
But it’s early days. As noted in our recent piece on the coming end of Merchant’s Workshop, they aren’t vacating the premises until August 16th. Still, Van Doren and Darren have hosted over a dozen pop-up suppers to date to test their partnership and their menu items on friends, colleagues and gourmands. Though they’re pinning the food concept as Asian street food, from my discussions with them it sounds like it’s more like Asian street food meets restaurant staff meal, which means the menu will be changing every day as determined by the best ingredients Darren can get his hands on, and geared towards the adventurous, flavour-focused palates of cooks. If Ugly Dumpling opened tomorrow, Van Doren tells me that these items – which they’ve already tested with great success – would likely be on the menu:
tomatoes and shiso
salted zucchini, crispy chili oil
shishito peppers, anchovy mayo
corn on the cob, Laos style salsa
crispy pork fat and chanterelle omelette
peas, fava beans and butter
Dishes will likely fall in the $5-$15 for smaller items and $15-$22 for the bigger stuff. They’ll be supported by Van Doren’s drinks list, which will focus on bolder sherries, wine varietals grown outside their noble homelands, soft-flavoured sake, and craft beer flowing from three taps. They will also be brewing kombucha in house and offering teas and sodas for the wagon riders.
As far as the design is concerned, I don’t think they’ll be departed much from what you see at Merchant’s Workshop today. It’s clean and simple, so they aren’t going to mess with it much. Besides, they want to be open in the first week of September, so that doesn’t leave them much in the way of time for major changes. I’m told, however, that the seating capacity is going to shrink a little, down to about 30-35 seats.
We’ll check back in for a follow-up soon after they get the keys. In the meantime, enjoy the last days of Merchant’s!