A Decade of Eating Fresh and Local: West Restaurant

(c) Remy Scalza

These days it seems like every other restaurant in Vancouver is offering a hundred-mile menu and embracing seasonal ingredients.  But few have been championing the eat-fresh, eat-local mantra longer – or with better results – than West, the venerable Vancouver institution in the South Granville neighborhood.

Lauded annually by Vancouver Magazine and food critics across Canada, West will be celebrating its 10th birthday this year.  Back when it first opened its doors, the vibrant Vancouver restaurant scene we know today was still in its infancy – a few great bistros, lots of staid old Continental restaurants serving up middling European fare.   West – as the name suggests – helped bring the food focus a little closer to home, emphasizing fish and produce from the Pacific Northwest and a lighter, more contemporary cooking style.

I checked out West recently and am happy to report that even after a decade the restaurant hasn’t lost a step.  Inside, the decor remains simple and uncluttered.  A long bar lines one side of the room, backed by a wall stacked with West’s impressive wine collection.  The dining room is bright and open – all white tablecloths and clean lines.

(c) Remy Scalza

The menu, as well, puts an emphasis on clean and simple flavors.   The focus is Pacific Northwest cuisine – Dungeness crab, Fraser River sockeye salmon, locally raised meats and vegetables – prepared with time-honored French techniques.  I started with a dish that reflects the current nose-to-tail dining movement in Vancouver: a  platter with smoked organic beef tongue and roasted sweetbread.

(c) Remy Scalza

As the night wore in, West filled up – showing that it can still pack ’em in after all these years and in the face of competition from hundreds of newer, flashier restaurants.  Music shifted from Sinatra to bossa groove, and behind the bar servers raced up and down a wooden ladder in search of vintage bottles of wine stacked on the wall.

I moved on to try some newer items on West’s revamped menu, including Pemberton potato soup with poached oysters and the Kurobuta pork, served with fruit chutney.  The food was exquisite (with prices to match), but the real highlight came at the end of the meal when I decided to pony up to the bar.

That’s when I met David Wolowidnyk, bartender extraordinaire and 2010 winner of Canada’s National Barchef Competition.  Not only can David explain the origin and evolution of pretty much every drink ever mixed, he also prepares many of his own ingredients by hand – everything from bitters to purees and syrups.

(c) Remy Scalza

After some deliberation, I settled on an unusual cocktail he invented called Passage to India, which was actually served at the Slumdog Millionaire Oscar party.  A shot of mango liqueur and Havana rum, a dash of jalapeno and cilantro and even a bit of curry powder go into the drink.  It tasted a lot like it sounds – definitely not your grandma’s cocktail.

Any other fans of West and its gifted bartender out there?  Please share memories and comments below.

Remy Scalza

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