When the final votes were tallied earlier this year and it became clear that Boulevard had won Restaurant of the Year, there was one overwhelming sentiment: “Well, that makes perfect sense.”
In many ways, it’s the logical conclusion for the six-year-old restaurant in downtown’s Sutton Place Hotel—some restaurants arrive on the scene like a juggernaut, all flash and dash and buzz, but Boulevard has always been more interested in playing the long game. Step one of this plan was recruiting the best talent—not just using the deep pockets enjoyed by the owners (the Gaglardi family) to poach the boldest names, but instead identifying great talent and then allowing them the freedom to develop.
Photo by Leila Kwok
Take executive chef Alex Chen—prior to Boulevard, he had been the executive chef at the Beverly Hills Hotel, a respected, well-paying job, but, to be honest, a little low on the dazzle scale. But he had just come off a Top 10 finish at the acclaimed Bocuse d’Or championships in Lyon and it was clear (in retrospect) that he was a chef ready to ascend to the highest levels of his profession. (He won our Chef of the Year in 2018.)
Or take second executive chef Roger Ma. (Chen is responsible for all the hotel’s restaurants, Ma focuses on Boulevard, but they seem to have a pretty fluid arrangement, much like Crockett and Tubbs did). Hiring the Vancouver native away from Daniel Boulud’s restaurant group might have made perfect sense if the place didn’t already have a chef, but Boulevard’s rationale was, “When you can get great talent, you do.”
On any given night, there’s a legitimate argument to be made that the two best chefs in the city are working in the same restaurant: Chen won the Canadian Culinary Championship in 2018; Ma took the same title last year. And it gets crazier—they’re supported by pastry chef Kenta Takahashi, recently crowned the country’s best in Canada’s Top 100. They’re a kitchen team that has no equal in town and they put out dishes that no other restaurant dares to try: wild salmon wrapped in fig leaves and baked in a clay crust that needs to be broken with a small hammer; USDA prime striploin smoked over hay; charcoal-grilled pine mushrooms, cooked en vessie (that means in a pig’s stomach) with dashi. Bonkers.
But the cooking talent is just part of the equation. In the front of house, GM JP Potters makes you forget you’re dining in a hotel restaurant and somehow runs a tight ship with a casual demeanour. And early on, they coaxed Brian Hopkins out of retirement, not so they could have a maître d’, but the maître d’. It all creates a heady equation that’s been unstoppable over the past few years. In 2018, they knocked Hawksworth off the #1 spot it had long owned in Best Upscale, and did the same with Blue Water in Best Seafood, and it’s been a mainstay ever since.
Boulevard, 845 Burrard St., boulevardvancouver.ca