Five Years Ago This Week, One of Vancouver’s Best Restaurants Was Just Taking Shape

For this week’s edition of #ThrowbackThursday we go back exactly five years to when Chinatown’s Kissa Tanto restaurant was in the midst of its construction at 263 East Pender Street.

The coming of Kissa Tanto didn’t have much doubt associated with it. This was true even during its construction phase in the winter of 2016, when contractors and the team at St. Marie Art & Design was hard at it making their mid-century modern vision for the interior a reality. This was largely because the new eatery was coming from Tannis Ling, Joël Watanabe and Alain Chow, who Vancouver diners recognized as the leadership behind Bao Bei, which at this point was well established as one of the coolest, most capable and most celebrated restaurants in the city. Truly, even the most casual observer of our food scene felt confident of the new project’s success on the day it was announced. With so much ability, talent, experience and good taste involved at every level, the Italian-Japanese concept was about as sure a thing as a thing could get.

From my notes at the time:

What they’re aiming for is an irreverent 75 seat hideaway with a 50s/60s feel to it, and instead of reprising the Shanghainese meets French concept that worked so well for them at Bao Bei, the food here will cleave to mostly Japanese and Italian traditions. That might sound a little odd, but the two cuisines have a lot in common when you think about it, everything from “mama” comforts and crudos to tatakis and noodles — not to mention the devotional fetishization of simplicity. “We’re always into doing something different,” Tannis says. “This opens up whole new avenues for us.”

In 2016, Kissa Tanto would land the coveted #1 spot on enRoute magazine’s Best New Restaurants in Canada list. It would also win praise in many publications both foreign and domestic, including the New York Times. On the day I toured it five years ago, however, it was this hot mess…

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