Maclean’s recent Top 50 Restaurants in Canada featured no less than eight Vancouver eateries (only two less than the Centre of the Universe®). While the list has been nothing short of controversial, with celebrity food guy Anthony Bourdain jumping into the fray to heap scorn on the judges’ omissions, it nonetheless highlights this city’s deeply ingrained food culture.
For all our Asian-fusion, 100-mile savvy, the West Coast isn’t always quick to jump on the latest food trends, which may be why we’re only now seeing the arrival of Spanish-style Mediterranean tapas. When it comes to these brand-spanking-new restaurants and their sun-drenched share plates, later is better than never.
SoL Sun Belt Cookery
The result of a longtime friendship between veteran Vancouver restauranteurs Abdel Elatouabi (Gastown’s Marrakesh and former executive chef to Moroccan Crown Prince Moulay Rashid) and Gord Martin (Go Fish, Bin 941 and 942), SoL’s food is inspired by the flavours of the Costa del Sol, the southern Spanish region whose culinary influences span Southern Europe and Northern Africa from Spain and France to Turkey around to Morocco. Look for staples like deep-fried chickpeas and olives at the bar, modern takes on traditional tapas like Bruschetta Albondigas and Niçoise Salad, as well as original, signature mezzes like Black Truffle Chicken or Ras Al Hanout Pork Tenderloin rubbed with traditional North African spices. A straightforward and unfussy wine list with regional and local vintages complements the menu. Adding to the Mediterranean getaway feel is a heated, sunset-facing patio overlooking the North Shore mountains and the mega-yachts of the Coal Harbour Marina. 550 Denman St.
East of Main Café
The former sous chef at Savoury City Catering, Jenny Patsula plates up Spanish tapas at this restaurant-cum-social-enterprise that funnels all its profits into the Project Limelight Society, a free performing arts program for kids living in the Downtown Eastside. From the trio of sweet and savoury cocas (traditional Catalonian flatbread) to the Almond Duqqa (a spread of ground almonds mixed with Egyptian spices) to the seafood ceviche platter and roasted cauliflower, each dish is meant to be shared in true tapas-style at the central communal table or at the small, five-seater bar where bartender Andrew Flynn shakes up an impressive European-themed cocktail list. 223 East Georgia St.
Yet another partnership between local culinary heavyweights, Espana is helmed by chef Neil Taylor (formerly of EnRoute’s 2009 Best Restaurant in Canada, Cibo) and front-of-house master Ed Perrow (most recently of La Brasserie). Arguably the most anticipated opening of the season, the British duo have given a dark-wood-meets-white-walls makeover to what was previously a middling Italian bistro named Cosca — even injecting a bit of tongue-in-cheek foolery with a pencil mural featuring Manuel of Fawlty Towers fame. The menu and wine list, however, are seriously Spanish with small plates like wilted spinach Catalan salad, Andalusian gazpacho and sautéed duck livers and chorizo with lentils, that can be paired with an extensive by-the-glass selection. Look for more substantial dishes (paella!) later this fall. 1191 Denman St.
Image courtesy of goodlifevancouver.