Trio of chefs updates Hart House menu

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

The three are working to make the venerable eatery’s menu more ‘West Coast’

Linda Bates

Hart House chef Kris Kabush, with his colleagues Will Lucas and Breck Lemcke, is working to update the restaurant’s menu. Kabush is pictured here with the AAA New York steak, which is aged in-house for 48 days. Photograph by: Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun


6664 Deer Lake Ave., Burnaby


Open Tuesday to Friday for lunch; Tuesday to Sunday for dinner; and Sunday for brunch.

Closed Monday.

Overall: ****

Food: ****

Service: ****

Ambience: ****

Cost: $$$

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Hart House, the elegant 1910 mansion on Deer Lake in Burnaby, is understandably a popular spot for weddings and other special occasions, and the restaurant, which opened in 1988, has a loyal following.

No one would be foolish enough to make a radical change to Hart House, which is traditional in the best ways — a handsome property with lovely views on to the garden and gracious service. It’s a long way from the concrete floors and pounding music of Yaletown, and patrons wouldn’t want it any other way.

Yet Hart House’s three young, relatively new chefs have set about to add to the menu, to make it more current and appealing to Vancouver’s foodie population.

One of the three, Kris Kabush, said in an interview, “We’re trying to update the menu and make it more sophisticated and West Coast.” For example, the veal sweetbreads and seared scallops are done in an Indian garam masala crust.

The trio, Will Lucas, Breck Lemcke and Kris Kabush, are sharing the role of executive chef, brainstorming their way to new recipes.

Isn’t that unusual? I asked Kabush. Aren’t kitchens traditionally quite hierarchical?

Kabush allowed that is often the case. In his 26 years (that’s of life, not career), he’s worked at many of Vancouver’s top restaurants, including the Wedgewood, Lumiere and Feenie’s.

He trained, as did colleague Will Lucas, at Vancouver Community College.

On a recent visit, my friend and I found that some of the new dishes were wildly successful and some less so.

Our starters were both terrific. My endive salad was the perfect marriage of light dressing, candied hazelnuts and grapes, with a chunk of chevre on the side. My friend’s seafood appetizer, with warm crab salad, rare ahi tuna, and prawns and scallops in broth, was nothing short of spectacular and left us wanting more. Each of the tiny portions provided a mix of textures and original flavours.

For mains we had one of the more conservative dishes (beef tenderloin) and one of the new ones, smoked duck breast.

The duck is prepared in a smoker on site, cold smoked over hickory and maple wood, then roasted in a traditional manner.

Unfortunately, to my taste, the smoked flavour overwhelmed the taste of duck, which I would have preferred simply roasted.

The accompanying gnocchi and light, fresh fennel provided a welcome balance.

No fault could be found with the beef tenderloin. Tender is the operative word, as in melt-in-the mouth. It was perfectly done, with jus, broccoli raab and fingerling potatoes.

The featured wine, a Rhone Parallel 45 syrah/grenache, worked well with both our meals. If we’d wanted a bottle, we could have chosen from a wide selection of B.C. and imported wines.

I was back in the land of contentment once dessert arrived: a lemon bar with basil and sorbet for my friend and almond cake with fresh berries and sorbet for me. Like the appetizer we loved, these desserts offered a variety of tastes richer in combination.

Service was everything you’d expect in a fine restaurant.

The exceptional setting is certainly part of the appeal here. Allow time to take a stroll around the grounds and along Deer Lake.

Hart House is hosting a special event, an evening of California cuisine and wine Sept 9. (Cost is $45 — phone for reservations.)

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