This is a Throwback Thursday post but some present-day context is first required before we trip together down memory lane…
Over the weekend I enjoyed a special dinner experience at Market by Jean-Georges, now in its 10th year in the Shangri-La Hotel. After a few weeks of mostly casual meals, ramen attacks and assorted counter-service re-ups, it was a bright reminder of how good service can be in Vancouver. The food was certainly wonderful (start with the steelhead sashimi on crispy rice and end with the tonka bean ice cream), but it was the service that I couldn’t stop talking about the next day. It was just…perfect.
And yes, perfect service is a thing. I don’t mean that it was deferential, slavish or obsequious. Rather, it was all about super-subtle attention to detail, the old school technical kind of service you only ever notice because you tried hard to ply it yourself and can’t help but always look for it in the hope it might still be there: unobtrusive mis-en-place, proper pouring, smooth plate delivery, clearing protocols, honest product knowledge, et cetera. It’s all there at Market. Even the support staffers exude and contribute to the general feeling of confident capability that quiets the room. As someone who dines out a lot and with purpose, it’s rare to be so effectively cocooned. And I loved it.
– photos courtesy Market by Jean-Georges –
I’m glad to know it’s there, now more than ever — in the same way that I’m glad CinCin is around the corner, Le Crocodile a few blocks south, Gotham a few blocks east, Bishop’s in Kitsilano and Cioppino’s over in Yaletown — reliable, consistent, excellent, there. Together, these places (and there are a few others) make up a constellation of sorts, a way for me to get my bearings on where Vancouver is as a food city. There are other orienting constellations too, of course, but this one has its own special glow. Its stars may not shine the brightest or get the most hot tip media love, but they’ve been shining and steering us the longest. We might sometimes forget the difference it has made when we’re distracted by the latest baubles, but it’s there. It really is.
Which brings me back to the Throwback Thursday nature of this post…
I was fortunate enough to be there on Market’s first night 10 years ago, dining with my friend Owen Lightly (grainy photos below). Paul Grunberg, who now co-owns Pepino’s, La Tana and Savio Volpe, was the General Manager. Chef Lee Cooper of Coquille and L’Abattoir was in the kitchen. So was, if I’m not mistaken, Toptable’s Kristian Eligh. We were shown to the bar by the very exacting Mary-Ann Masney, who was once upon a time my boss at Toronto’s Prego Della Piazza, and serving us was none other than Justin Tisdall, who went on to open Juke Fried Chicken. Oh, and Robert Stelmachuk – now of Mott 32 – was the Sommelier. There are others, of course, who have gone on from Market to do good and delicious things (eg. Chef Felix Zhou of Heritage Asian Eatery), but my point is that consistency in excellence is just part of the restaurant’s internal culture. It was as amply evidenced on the first night 10 years ago as it is by the team employed there today — a group that ensures a very high standard, even at a time when staffing the front of house has never been more challenging. So hat’s off and glasses up. Here’s to another 10 years.