Aren’t you hungry for travel? Just imagine sipping an aperitivo in a Mediterranean-sun-soaked piazza while scrolling through your photos. Or wandering through a market fragrant with satay skewers sizzling over charcoal fires. Or savouring a leisurely wine-soaked déjeuner after a morning of flâneuring through historic streets.
Sadly, this summer we are likely to be staying close to home, thanks to the pandemic. But we can still explore the world through our local restaurants. Here are three newish Vancouver restaurants with exceptional wine programs, each designed to whisk you away, at least for a few hours.
The French bistro in the Loden Hotel isn’t new, exactly, but it is newly re-opened after a year behind closed doors. Its hiatus saw a subtle renovation to both the décor and the menu, and if you liked this cosy spot before, you’ll love its chic re-incarnation even better.
The acclaimed Vancouver design firm Ste. Marie has spruced up the place with an updated colour palette and other improvements, including a botanical-themed reno to the Grand Salon as well as a patio expansion that will nearly double its outdoor seating capacity. Meanwhile, executive chef Bobby Milheron (formerly of much-missed West Restaurant) has updated the French-meets-West-Coast menu with clever additions like the steak frites list that sees several different cuts paired with fries—including a giant ribeye for two or a confit duck leg—as well as lashings of Ocean Wise seafood from the raw bar. Breakfast is now available, and there’s a late-night happy hour in addition to the afternoon one, so there are treats to be enjoyed any time of day.
That includes the wine and cocktails, which are in the good hands of Wentworth Hospitality beverage director J-S Dupuis and bar manager Nich Box. The wine list hails from France and B.C., with a terrific value-driven Champagne selection at happy hour. (Wentworth Hospitality is also opening the modern café Maxine’s this spring.)
We rarely head to Thai restaurants for the wine. Then again, few Thai restaurants have hired the Best Sommelier of the Americas (2018) to create their wine list. Baan Lao, a new high-end Thai restaurant in Steveston, is that exception. Quebec-based Master Sommelier Pier-Alexis Soulière has pulled together a selection of wines heavy on B.C. and international labels, all designed to complement the complex sweet-sour-salty-spicy cuisine of chef Nutcha Phanthoupheng.
This is elevated Thai as we have rarely, if ever, seen in Vancouver, served with elegant theatricality in a beautiful riverside setting. The evening opens with a Thai dancer and then waltzes through an opulent nine-course menu with optional wine or tea pairings. (There is an à la carte menu available at lunch, and a takeout menu in the works.)
Dishes burst with bright, fresh flavours, many of them courtesy of the living wall of fresh herbs. Ingredients are organic and, whenever possible, local. Among the most memorable dishes are the signature sockeye salmon, which comes topped with caviar and gold leaf, and the pad Thai, which is wrapped in a lacy egg cage that is almost too beautiful to eat. (But eat it anyway.)
Thailand may be off the itinerary this summer, but Steveston is definitely, and deliciously, within reach.
Vancouver is in love with Italy right now, and who can blame us? We could all use a little dolce vita after the year we’ve had.
Among the city’s cluster of new Italian, Italian-inspired and Italian-fusion restaurants, Tutto Restaurant & Bar stands out for its charming room and even more charming staff. Located in a 1910 heritage building on Homer Street, it has multiple modishly decorated semi-private zones that make the 6,000-square-foot feel at once intimate and elegant. Keeping things running smoothly are a pair of legendary front-of-house pros: operations director Patrick Corsi (of Quattro fame) and GM Andrea Vescovi (formerly of Ancora and Blue Water Cafe).
Chef Adam Shaughnessy (ex-Umberto’s) cooks up modern takes on Italian favourites, many based on local ingredients. Among them: a 38-ounce aged tomahawk bistecca Fiorentina, a squid ink spaghetti with fresh seafood and the wild mushroom and truffle pizza. There’s also a great selection of small bites and happy hour choices as well as a deft little cocktail list that combines Italian classics with house-crafted signatures. And, not at all surprisingly, Vescovi has compiled a stellar international wine list to accompany all those tasty nibbles.
As the saying goes, there really is “un po’di Tutto”—a little bit of everything—to savour here. It might (almost) make you happy to stay home this summer.
@ Vitis Magazine