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Restaurants open, giving us food and hope.
It’s hard enough operating a restaurant in Vancouver in the best of times. Crippling commercial rents, staffing shortages, delivery-service startups disrupting the dine-in experience, changing consumer tastes, the pressure to have the most Instagrammable bathroom, the scramble for liquor licenses… if you’re going to open your own little bistro, you’d better be both an amazing chef and a glutton for punishment.
Suffice to say, we were impressed (and grateful!) to see so many of our fave rooms survive this spring’s global rollercoaster and emerge, lean but alive, into the new socially distanced normal.
But we were downright flabbergasted to receive notice of a slew of brand new restaurants opening this month, among them: Potluck Hawker Eatery on Cambie (a cheery, hawkers-market-inspired counter-service spot, slated to open this week), Ophelia in Olympic Village (upscale Mexican, now open), and The Roost in the West End (a Southern-style “food and booze” joint opening this month). The audacity! The chutzpah! The small plates! You maniacs!
In a time where we’re all nervous about the idea of simply re-opening, it feels shocking to see fresh new faces enter our dining scene, but it’s ultimately less about bravery and more about bad timing. These restos were in the works long before the world went into enforced hibernation. It takes years of planning and prep to birth a tapas-fusion room into the world, so it does make sense that you would need to soldier forward and open despite an unprecedented economic downturn and public safety measures that would cut your capacity by half. The menus are ready; the renos are done; the chefs are hired. There’s really nothing left to do but fire up that grill and see what happens.
To be clear: this is not a criticism of restaurants opening. Quite the opposite, rather: it’s sheer delight.
In a pandemic, we’ve dropped our expectations and hopes to unprecedented lows. We’ve experienced giddiness seeing our local green grocer open up again. The highlight of a given day might be receiving a package from Pulp Fiction. In yearning for our old life, dreaming and wishing for the future has taken a back seat. So, yes, these are just restaurants, and people out there are still frighteningly ill and we are not done with caution just yet… there are definitely more important things to worry about or celebrate right now. But when an ambitious new Mexican restaurant opens in the right neighbourhood at the wrong time, it feels like they’re not just serving up tacos, but a little bit of hope. Table for one, please.
Ophelia (now open)165 W 2nd Ave, opheliakitchen.caUpscale Mexican cocina from the team at Flying Pig and WildTale. Chef Francisco Higareda cut his teeth in kitchens across Mexico and Europe; here in Vancouver, he’s dishing out corn-rusted octopus with chorizo mole, braised chicken enchiladas grantinadas and prawn ceviche tostadas.
Potluck Hawker Eatery (opening this week)3424 Cambie St., potluckyvr.caThe inspiration for the casual counter-service room—run by Justin Cheung and Domnic Sai, who both came up at Longtail and Freebird—is a potluck in and of itself: an homage to Malaysian cuisine, Thai street food and Filipino feasts. Snack on hand-pulled Malaysian flatbread, Indonesian fried rice, or fried chicken wings sourced from free-run chickens at Farmcrest farms. Family-style meals (think whole chili crab, with all the fixings) are available too, should you want to share a bite with your bubble.
The Roost (opening this month)1037 Denman St., Facebook page
As much as the phrase “eatery and drinkery” irks some of us in the editorial department, we’re never going to complain about a fresh neighbourhood local in the West End—especially one with a (soon to open) 36-seater patio and a menu focused on all things deep-fried. It’s an evolution of Italian spot Centro, which closed due to COVID-19 and is now reopening with new partnership, concept and branding… and a to-go menu just right for beach picnics.