Sophia Lin’s highly anticipated 55-seat Old Bird is on track to officially launch on January 16th, 2020 in the old Nomad restaurant space located at 3950 Main Street.
When I looked in at the nearly finished space last weekend the front of house opening team was on a training break. Groups of service staff were huddled around the bar and at the rear of the almost fully set room swigging from their own beverage containers, swapping stories and talking about what they’d just had for lunch as GM Shawn Jones focused on her afternoon syllabus. Upstairs in the bright, uniquely situated mezzanine kitchen, chef Deseree Lo was busily preparing a meat marinade and supervising prep work. Old Bird both smelled and looked good, like it was already well in the game and now in the midst of a slow-moving pre-shift staff meeting on wine list changes and the night’s dinner specials. Friends and family services were still several days away, but with the paper off the windows and staff on the clock, everything seemed locked and loaded, ready for battle. (I wasn’t the only one who thought so. While I was taking some photographs near the front door I had to turn away a hungry party of two!)
If this is the first you’re reading about Old Bird, Scout previewed the Taiwanese/Shanghainese street food restaurant back in November. Here’s a refresher…
Sophia, an art-lover who grew up in Shanghai and graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design, came to Vancouver by way of a curating career back in China, where she’d found a side passion in the study of bread and pastry. Deseree was raised in Taiwan and honed her knives in French and Italian restaurants in Los Angeles and New York before moving to Vancouver and working at CinCin. If you don’t recognize Shawn from Nomad you’ll likely remember her from her years at Chambar. The new 55-seater will see a sharable, small plate concept narrowed on the myriad street foods of Taiwan and Shanghai. We’re talking fish balls and squid in curry; peppered short ribs; hot and sour bamboo shoots; crispy daikon-stuffed pastries; beef noodle soup; mini mantou buns; et cetera — all super flavourful, deeply satisfying snacks that speak to Sophia and Deseree’s childhood food memories. The dinner menu will be supported by a full bar program — cocktails, wine, beer. I imagine the offerings will be tweaked for weekend brunch.
Shawn showed me what I think was the final draft of Deseree’s menu on her laptop. It read well with a fixed theme of sharing. Beyond the miniature mantou buns and beef noodle soups, what immediately caught my eye were the half smoked chicken and a honey-glazed BBQ pork dishes (the former listed with an “eat with your hands” directive), plus a side of duck fat rice with garlic and crispy shallots — late night stuff that screams for cocktails. To this end, they’ve hired barman and prolific artist Chad Coombs, a 2019 Diageo World Class finalist and recent arrival to Vancouver by way of Saskatoon’s 13 Pies, Sticks and Stones and Ayden Kitchen and Bar. His drinks list looks good, too, with plenty of interesting, conceptually dove-tailing ingredients.
Take a good look below (and maybe try to imagine it in the much darker throes of a busy evening). Friends and family tastings go down tonight and tomorrow with retooling and soft services to follow. As mentioned up top, they’ll officially open on the night of January 16th.