Tough economy has made us see comfort dining in a whole new way

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

When 10-course meals aren’t an option, French bistros and Italian trattorias become the ‘it spots’

Mia Stainsby

Vancouver Sun / Two Chefs and a Table owners Karl Gregg (left) and Allan Bosomworth hold a duck confit salad and an apple grilled pork chop with new potatoes, beet greens, baby carrot, fennel and apple cider jus. Photograph by: Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun

Vancouver Sun / Chef Patchen Gallagher shows the all-day breakfast at Deacon’s Corner Gastown Diner. Photograph by: Photos Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun

The year 2009 brings to mind a quote from former U.S. president George W. Bush: “It’s clearly a budget. It’s got lots of numbers in it.”

Yes, diners and restaurateurs alike were clearly budgeting and crunching a lot of numbers.

It was a sad-sack year for this dynamic restaurant city (as well as for other major cities), but there was a silver lining the average diner should appreciate.

While it certainly wasn’t a stellar year for 10-course tasting menus, comfort dining really stepped up to the plate and reminded us how delicious it can be.

We really fell in love with French bistros and Italian trattorias and good old American comfort foods done better than ever before. Places like Les Faux Bourgeois, La Brasserie, Pied-a-Terre and Jules weren’t feeling kicked around; neither were La Buca, Cibo, Nook, La Quercia, Campagnolo and Italian Kitchen.

Some high-end chefs who didn’t have the resources to rumble with a tough economy turned their considerable skills to cooking hearty, homey, comforting food. The everyday diner benefited, with the likes of Maenam and Refuel (see story, front).

The flight to lower-rent, edgier streets continued. Already, Two Chefs and a Table had settled into a hardcore corner of Main and Alexander; Salt was a haven in the aptly named Blood Alley; late last year, Campagnolo opened in a postal code better known for bar brawls.

Earlier this year, Au Petit Chavignol opened in an off-the-beaten track block of East Hastings in Strathcona serving amazing cheeses and comfort food. Deacon’s Corner zipped into a corner at the foot of Main, serving Bunyanesque breakfasts. And any day, Judas Goat is set to open next to Salt in Blood Alley.

Happily, cutting costs and corners hasn’t been at the expense of local, sustainable producers. Vancouverites are committed supporters of green products, and menus continued to give diners biographies of ingredients involved.

One rebel restaurant came out with guns blazing: Coast. The new $4.8-million, 265-seat, two-level restaurant looked like a latecomer to a dying party, but it had the backing and the smarts to weather the storm. The place, one of the Glowbal mini-empire of restaurants, is doing very well.

Finally, in 2009, something missing in action in this vibrant city has found its feet — real Spanish tapas-style restaurants — not West Coast, not Japanese, not a melange of whatever-sells kind of tapas. Considering that Spain is a rising star on the international culinary scene, it’s about time. Mis Trucos on Davie dives into Spanish deliciously; Cafe Barcelona on Granville Street is run by two Spaniards, one a former Spanish consul-general; and Judas Goat Taberna, by Gastown restaurant czar Sean Heather, is all about capturing the eating/drinking/partying vibe of Spain.

A server prepares an order at Au Petit Chavignol, a cheese and wine eatery on East Hastings Street.

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