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Can the new English Bay seafood spot win our wine editor's seal of approval?
The Spot: The brand new replacement for Beach Bay Cafe at one of the sweetest spots on English Bay.
The Theme: Papi’s Seafood and Oyster Bar is owned by the Viaggio Hospitality Group, which owns Ancora, Uva and the departed Beach Bay amongst others. The stated goal is to try and make Papi’s more casual and accessible than Beach Bay was, so the list is short-ish (just 25 bottles) with an emphasis on bubbles. View the list here.
The First Impression: Well, it certainly comes across as casual. For starters, there’s no vintages on anything, which is fine for the most part, but if I’m paying $480 for a bottle of Dom or $265 for a bottle of Occulus, I sort of expect to know what vintage I’m getting. Also, for a place that specializes in oysters, I kinda expect a Muscadet or a Sancerre or Chablis. And the entries aren’t descriptive enough: the excellent Meyer Family Vineyards has five Chardonnays that it sells, so simply listing “Meyer Chardonnay” is insufficient. Is that for the $17.50 Okanagan Valley, or the $57 Micro Cuvée? And while I love seeing the very special Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir here, it likewise is a winery that prides itself on the three unique terroirs that it crafts with its pinot so just simply saying “Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir” is a real miss. And two rosés doesn’t seem enough for this type of place. On the plus side, they’re showcasing some lesser known B.C. wines—like the amazing Howling Bluff or the even more amazing Coolshanagh. And I also like the emphasis—eight bottles worth—on bubbles.
The Steal: The concept may be casual, but the wine prices here are not. Let’s start with the obvious—the cheapest bottle of red is $75, the cheapest bottle of white is likewise $75, and the cheapest bottle of bubbles is, you guessed it, $75. The two rosés are $65 each. These are not casual prices, these are very expensive starting points. There are some deals here though: the aforementioned Martin’s Lane is—regardless of the vineyard—a $100 wine, so selling it for $150 is a treat. And Coolshanagh Chardonnay usually checks in at just under $40 retail, so $79 is very very reasonable.
The Not So Much: We already mentioned the high starting point, but the bigger problem is that the wine is not just expensive, it’s marked-up quite high. Take the Kilikanoon Shiraz, which I’m assuming is the popular Killerman’s Run version. For starters, other than the burger, it’s not a great match for anything else on the menu—and it’s a wine that costs $23 at the BCLDB and checks in at $75 here. Three times over retail is not cool, and definitely not casual. That Howling Bluff Sauvignon Blanc? Also $75 for a $22 bottle. Moet, which I assume means Moet Imperial, is $220 for a $70 bottle of wine. That’s brutal at that price. And the Xanadu Cab Sauv (that’s how it’s labelled on the list, so I assume it’s the Next of Kin) is also $75 for an $18.50 bottle. Ouch—that’s the rare 400-plus-percent mark-up, which is egregious.
Cool-Factor Bottle: I like Coolshanagh a lot, and it’s pretty niche. And speaking of niche, the White Pinot Noir from Niche Wine Co. is sort of a fun oddity too. But this isn’t a cool-kids list, really.
The Copy Editor: I hate the term Cab Sauv. And Sauv Blanc. Weirdly Cab Franc is ok. Also the Cremant d’Alsace is spelled “Cresmant D’alsace” for the rare two demerits on one entry.
The Head-Scratcher: There’s a good selection of Pinots but nothing a little lighter or more bracing in the red section—there should be a Gamay or a Bardolino and the reds as a class seem too heavy for the cuisine. The aforementioned omission of the classic French seafood whites—no Sancerre, no Muscadet, no Chablis, not even a Picpoul—is a sin. I just don’t get it.
The Grade: C-. It’s early days here, but this is a seasoned restaurant company and a four-times mark-up is unforgivable, as is not explaining the wines properly. If Papi’s wants to be casual then they should take a page from Chewie’s list, which sells the Moet for $110 (not Papi’s $220) and Dom for $260 (not Papi’s $480). That’s how you get the locals to love you. Papi’s is brand new, so maybe they’re still working through some things. We’ll monitor for change, but right now this seems like a list to fleece tourists.