European cuisine gets touch of spice

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Impressive addition to culinary cosmology

Mia Stainsby

Chris Dignan (right) along with bar manager Nicole Maxwell at Red2 on Granville Street. Photograph by : Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun


Overall ***1/2

Food ****

Ambience ***1/2

Service ***1/2

Price $$

1216 Granville St.,

604-408-6352. Open Monday to Saturday for dinner.

Restaurant visits are conducted anonymously and interviews are done by phone. Restaurants are rated out of five stars.

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The Doukhobors in the West Kootenays make the best borscht. It’s not traditional beet soup, rather, it’s thick with tomatoes and thin-sliced cabbage and dill and there’s absolutely no fear of high-fat cream; the borscht is thickened with mashed potatoes and everything’s sauteed in butter before being added in. One small beet is thrown in, mainly to add colour. A crusty home-baked Doukhobor bread is the perfect sponge for soaking up every last bit.

A less waist-destroying tweak on borscht can be found at Red2 Tapas Lounge. It’s made with golden beets and is blended into a velvety Gerber texture. A porcelain spoon sits next to the bowl with a dollop of sour cream, ready to take a dive into the bowl.

Red2, you see, is a modern Eastern European restaurant. Menu-wise, that translates to social sharing plates of pyrogies; sausages with grainy mustard with spaetzle and red cabbage; housemade sauerkraut; house-cured fish; kasha fries; an amazing 80-plus vodka list and vodka flights; and cocktails have decidedly catchy with names like Sputnik, KGB and Chernobyl Clean-up. Red2’s look is modern, the sound, loungey and the room, well, it’s long and narrow, like a bowling alley.

The difference between Red2 and the mom-and-pops of Eastern European restaurants can be found in the kitchen. Chef Chris Dignan was the chef at Victoria‘s Cafe Brio, one of my favourite restaurants in that city. His sous chef here was his sous at Cafe Brio. Together, they’re really adding to the city’s culinary cosmology.

Our pyrogies ($11.50) were filled with duck confit, onions and a tang of red cabbage sauerkraut. The golden beet borscht ($6.25) was tasty but like other dishes I tried, there’s a vinegary note. Is it to give all our taste buds a hit? I’m not sure I liked it in the soup.

The melt-in-mouth shortrib beef stroganoff ($15.75) was served with noodles so wide they could sub as lasagne noodles. (Again, a touch of acid in the sauce.) We had brake failure when we started into a bowl of kasha fries with a red pepper dip. It was nutty and nice and soon the bowl was empty.

On another visit, we tried the house pickles, not the best food to have with wine and not particularly special.

Potato and smoked salmon roe pyrogy, however, was delicious; mussels with tomato sofritto and smoked paprika were excellent and Thurlinger sausage with grain mustard spaetzle and red cabbage sauerkraut was a great comfort dish. And to finish, we shared ricotta fritters with pan-roasted pear and which was served with a deliciously flavoured creme fraiche.

The restaurant was originally called Red Square but when threatened with legal action by a bakery/deli of the same name, they averted battle and went with a change. Their sign and logo, however, reads Red X Red. The upshot is, it’s not a user-friendly name.

The restaurant is in the Granville Grand Hotel which was renovated three years ago and is a good-value European style hotel. The G Sports Bar and Grill across the lobby is part of the mix.

The staff are attentive and friendly and leave their attitude at home, although one of the servers seemed inexperienced.

We went early for dinner one day and there were several tables of senior diners, likely hotel guests. One couple was celebrating their 60th anniversary (not the typical Granville Mall scenesters) and were fussed over by the young serving staff. Now that’s what I call cool, I thought.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008


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