Relish Gastropub
888 Nelson St.

Rating: ** 1/2
Dinner & drinks for two: $70
Signature Dish: Oyster po’ boy
Signature Drink: Gaida

It was a dark and stormy night, and fittingly, we had tickets for Puccini. It was decided that some hearty gastropub fare would be most welcome pre-show.

I had already done a quick run-by of the recently redone Relish Gastropub and the new menu, and was eager to try more. The new chef, Patchen Gallagher, is a DIY enthusiast, and likes to cure his own gravlax, grind his own meats, and troll the local markets for fresh produce. Besides, when words like duck fat, gnocchi poutine and oyster po’ boy get bandied about with enthusiasm, the buds start to salivate.

The room is small, low-ceilinged, and panelled in dark wood and tile, with comfortable seating and music that’s just retro enough—Beatles, James Brown—to be interesting. The menu is equally small, but is well thought out. The wine list has some kitschy by-the-glass selections like Fast Bastard and Arrogant Frog, as well as some stronger choices, like the Joie Rosé. A nice find is a bottle of Chateau Roquetaillade Bordeaux for $50.

Almost half of the menu is devoted to cheeses and charcuterie, at fairly reasonable prices. $4 gets you an ounce of anything, or you can do a three-for-$10 deal. The house-cured gravlax is rich and oily, and the smoked duck breast is matched perfectly with a sweet pomegranate relish. Beef carpaccio—also house-cured—is a little heavily sauced for my taste, but beautifully presented. I also discovered there is a buck-a-shuck special on fresh oysters every day between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Score.

The rest of the menu is made up of elevated pub grub selections like tourtière ($15), shepherd’s pie ($15) and gnocchi poutine ($10). We started with the goat cheese brulée ($10), which was a bit confusing. Served over a bed of cranberry in a ramekin, this was a tasty spread, but where was the “brulée?” The accompanying “herbed” toast points were no such thing, which left me wondering why they just didn’t call it “baked goat cheese with toasted bread” and save us the disappointment of expecting something else.

Duck fat “steak frites” ($6) were large, herbed potato wedges that, although tasty, felt more roasted than fried, with no discernible flavour or hint of duck fat. The deep-fried oysters ($3 each), however, were large and delicious, and worth going back for.

What then ensued was one of the longest waits that I have ever experienced. There was only one other table occupied at the time, a couple, so our table of three didn’t seem like such a heavy burden. However, it took over 35 minutes for our mains to appear. A simple “sorry for the wait” from our server would have gone a long way, but it wasn’t until I had looked at my watch three times, wondered aloud in her presence about the food, and finally asked point-blank when the damn plates would arrive that she mentioned they were about to plated.

Mini lamb burgers ($7) were good from every angle. The braised cheeks melted in the mouth, the buns were soft and fresh, and the mint aioli and dijon chevre were present in just the right amount. A chicken cordon bleu ($15) was also a nice choice, but the gnocchi poutine ($10) was hugely disappointing. Although the cheese curds were authentic, with the right amount of squeak, the gnocchi were heavy and dense, instead of light and pillowy, and the red wine demi glace that took the place of the gravy was reduced almost to the point of burning, leaving a slightly smoky aftertaste.

Another visit saw me trying the oyster po’ boy ($15). This was a vast improvement and came with a roasted tomato soup drizzled with basil oil that was rich, flavourful, and left a subtle hint of heat on the tongue. The service was also much improved, so one can hope the other night was a fluke.

Relish is definitely on the right track with its food program, and Chef Gallagher is obviously enthusiastic about what he’s putting out. A few small tweaks and this neighbourhood pub can definitely be a place to “relish.”

New releases

Bring on the Barbie
With summer fast approaching, and the barbecues warming up, it’s time to think about what to pair with those freshly grilled hamburgers and ribs. Columbia Crest’s Two Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 from Washington State is a light, fruit-forward choice, with a palate of cherries, strawberries and cola. $12.99 at BCLS.

Dining Out

Refuel Your Picnic
Refuel (1944 West 4 Ave) has added a summer fried chicken picnic to their takeout menu. Get three, six or 12 pieces of cold buttermilk-fried Polderside chicken, housemade biscuits, sides like potato salad or watermelon, and soda, plus biodegradable cutlery and napkins. $18 per person; $35 per couple; or $68 per family. Call 604-288-7905.

Friday Brunch
Twisted Fork (1147 Granville St.) is now open for Friday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. All brunch mains are $11 and include banana-stuffed brioche French toast, gruyere baked eggs, bacon and brie frittata, croque monsieur, eggs benny and more. Call 604-568-0749.

Food in Brief

Bard-B-Q & Fireworks

Tickets are now on sale for
Bard on the Beach’s annual fundraising al fresco dinner and fireworks
evening. Enjoy a play, salmon burger and the annual Celebration of
Light for $103.

Smoking Dog
Pascal Georges, former chef at The Smoking Dog Bistro under the late Jean-Claude Ramond, has returned to the nest, and brought a new menu with him. Here’s to going back to the French basics.

Yew Restaurant & Bar at The Four Seasons Hotel has won Best Hotel Dining & Bar at the Where Vancouver Magazine Annual Dining Awards. Congratulations to a very talented team!