562 Beatty St.

Rating: *****
Dinner & drinks for two: $100+
Signature Dish: Spice-Rubbed Duck
Signature Drink: The Blue Fig

There are certain restaurants that fail to stand the tests of both time and fickle restaurant-goers. A few brief months of glory, and the hipsters move along to the next shiny new place. Chambar is absolutely not one of those. The room is sleek and hip, but certainly not the prettiest in town, and the prices are definitely not on the cheap side. So what is it that has made this place such a consistent favourite over the last half-decade and kept those hipsters—and what seems like everybody else in town—coming back?

The answer might lie in the previous question. Consistency. Chambar is a place that has stuck to what it does best—Belgian cuisine mixed with Middle Eastern and North African influences—and has consistently dished out that cuisine without pause or gratuitous change. The blue fig martini ($11)—made with oven roasted, then frozen figs, and served with a side of Danish blue cheese—has been on the menu since the beginning, and there’s a reason it’s still around (I tested it several times one night to be sure). And the service has become a benchmark for new contenders on the fine dining front. In fact, its owners, couple Karri Schuermans and Chef Nico Schuermans, are responsible for training and nurturing what seems to be half of the top talent in town—both in front and back of house.

I hadn’t been to Chambar in several years, but with their recent five year anniversary celebrations fresh in my mind, and new faces in the kitchen and on the floor, it seemed like a good time to drop by. A birthday was being celebrated, so a large group of us gathered one busy Saturday night to make with the whoop and ingest the (hopefully) good stuff.

I tend to think of Saturday nights as the worst time to review a restaurant. The place is usually packed, the servers are harried, the music is often too loud, and the kitchen is frantic. Trust this place to turn that notion inside out. Yes, the place was busy—I didn’t see a single empty table—but the noise level was lively enough to impart good vibes without requiring us to shout at our neighbours. The service was so smooth that I really didn’t notice the details of who refilled our water glasses with the house sparkling water, or even when.

And, not to digress, but how cool is it that some restaurants are now installing water filtration and carbonation systems so that they can offer their guests sparkling B.C. water for a whopping $1 per person—for the whole night. Yup, $1 buys you all the sparkling H20 you can quaff, served in tall glass bottles that didn’t need to be shipped in from Finland, or wherever the latest designer water comes from. Chambar is one of a small—but growing—handful of restaurants jumping on this eco-water train, and it’s a nice nod to the environment, as are the dual-flush bowls in the washrooms. In fact, Chambar is in process of becoming completely carbon-neutral through an aggressive recycling, composting and re-purposing program that includes all the paper in the restaurant being 100% post-consumer recycled, and even the take-home cutlery and packaging for your leftovers being biodegradable and compostable.

But, to return to the point—namely, the food—this is where the love really stands out. Chef Schuermans still does a mean lamb tagine ($29), but the spice-rubbed duck breast ($29), served with fresh pea shoots and crispy, light spring rolls stuffed with scallion-and-tarragon infused goat cheese, the whole drizzled in fresh orange gastrique, caused the juices to flow in all sorts of pleasurable ways. A steaming pot of mussels cooked in a tomato-coconut cream ($22), with smoked chili and fresh cilantro, was an excellent starter for two, with enough sauce to soak up the loaf of bread we used as a mop. A friend’s pistachio-crusted halibut ($30) melted away on the tongue, and was perfectly matched with a lovely lemon quinoa.

Chambar has stuck to its guns through fat years and lean, and the result is a restaurant that will no doubt see another five years (and hopefully more) of happy success and satisfied palates.

Just in time for summer: new releases from Mission Hill
Looking for an accompaniment to that lovely cut of Pemberton steak on the grill, or the chilled lobster you’re serving up? Mission Hill’s latest releases include a full-bodied 2007 Five Vineyards Cabernet Merlot ($16.99) with dark cocoa and spice notes over a rich plum palate, making it perfect with beef, duck or aged cheeses. For the pescatarian, try the 2008 Reserve Viognier ($15.99). The rich creaminess and citrus-stone fruit palate is ideal with chilled shellfish, oysters, and sushi.

The Zero-Mile Diet
On June 24 at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks, enjoy an evening of local food and gardening from one of B.C.’s top gardening gurus, Carolyn Herriot. Tickets $40 and include a signed copy of Herriot’s book, The Zero-Mile Diet. Call 604-688-6755.

Dining Out

Summer in France
Throughout the summer months, Bistro Pastis (2153 West 4 Ave) will be offering regional French table d’hote menus for only $35 per person for three courses. Starting June 22 will be the Brittany and Normandy-themed menu, featuring sole Normande, crepes au citron and poulet au cidre. Call 604-731-5020.

An Epic Father’s Day
This Sunday for Father’s Day, Refuel Restaurant (1944 West 4 Ave) is offering up an 18 oz, 40-day, dry-aged, Alberta prime rib-eye steak, along with a 16 oz craft beer from R&B Brewing Co. for $55. Steak comes with two fried eggs and French fries for brunch, or a variety of sautéed mushrooms and fries for dinner. Call 604-288-7905.

Food in Brief

Rogue Kitchen & Wetbar
is now open at 601 West Cordova St., and is the first restaurant in Vancouver to offer a “pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth” option on all food items. Just remember, honesty really is the best policy.

Industry stars Annette Rawlinson and Chef Tina Fineza have joined forces to open The Commune Café at 1002 Seymour St. in early July. Looking forward to a great selection of nosh and quaffs.

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