1165 Mainland St.
Signature Drink: Russell Pale Ale
Signature Dish: Fish and chips
Dinner & drinks for 2: $80
The past year has seen a number of fine dining restaurants rebooting as lower-priced and more casual ventures (Maenam, Refuel, et al), but until last month, I had never heard of a casual chain location rebooting as a still-more-casual independent restaurant. The owner of the Yaletown location of Browns Social House suddenly decided to jump the chain ship and re-opened virtually overnight as Hub Restaurant and Lounge, a place that offers a “back to basics” menu in a room of “casual sophistication.” Hmm, this didn’t sound that much different from Browns, but I was curious—how much more “casual” could a casual operation get?
Over several visits, the picture became clear. The room itself is almost identical to the former chain, with the same brick walls, raised black vinyl booths, and high tops. The addition of some macho photography—a close-up of the Charging Bull statue in Bowling Green park, NY, and some football players in a huddle—and some extra flat screens over the bar screams “sports bar” more than “casual restaurant,” or “lounge,” for that matter, but hey, Yaletown is profuse with female-centered décor, so a little change-up might not be a bad thing.
The menu seems to follow the tried-and-true concept of trying to jazz up simple dishes with expensive ingredients. Lobster wings ($13), for instance. These were basically four small tails, still attached to their shells, which where then coated in batter and quickly deep-fried. Most of the batter ends up on the shell, which seemed a bit of a waste, but the flesh was not overcooked and the portion was fair. Fairly tasty, in fact, although I felt the side of melted butter was overkill.
Mac and cheese ($15) was heavily loaded up with gruyère, parmigiano and aged cheddar. The cheeses almost completely overpowered the flavour of the star ingredient—crab, in this case—this despite the sizable amount of the latter in the dish. Cheesy pasta is always tasty (as any three-year-old will attest to), but a little less dairy in this case would have given the crab a stronger presence. Halibut and chips ($16) was a less interesting dish. The fish, while moist and fairly firm, lacked flavour. The coleslaw, on the other hand, was rather nice, with a hint of black pepper livening things up.
Another visit saw us trying more traditional fare, namely the bacon and cheese burger ($14). I decided to substitute the fries for the poutine (extra $2), while my friend went with the regular offering. Turns out there wasn’t much difference. Our burgers were well-cooked and piled high, and the fries tasted okay on their own, but too much gravy and not enough cheese curds didn’t make for something memorable.
The one dish we truly and unequivocally enjoyed was from the dessert list. The chocolate-chip “pazookie” ($8) was electrifyingly delicious. This “pizza-meets-cookie” concept is quite popular in certain regions of the U.S. (where it’s usually called “pizookie”), but I have yet to see a local restaurant try it until now. Served straight from the oven in its own little cast iron pan and topped with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream, it felt like a child’s version of clafoutis and caused a bit of a spoon-skirmish to get the last bite.
This restaurant won’t cause any waves, but it will probably do nicely for those looking to watch some sports, down a beer, and fuel up at the same time.
Innisikillin’s Single Vineyard Series Shows Promise
Meritage is becoming an increasingly popular blend in B.C. and Innisikillin’s 2006 Dark Horse Meritage is a good one to try. This one combines 78% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon for a nose of cherry and chocolate over an oaky-vanilla palate infused with plum. BCLS $24.99.
Chinese New Year at Wild Rice
February 13 marks the beginning of the Year of the Tiger. Celebrate at Wild Rice (117 West Pender St) during the first two weeks of the Chinese New Year with the four-course Year of the Tiger menu for $40. wildricevancouver.com
Valentine’s Day Dining
Le Gavroche (1616 Alberni St) is offering a special five-course Valentine’s Day menu for $85 ($125 with optional wine pairings). Options include duck confit wrapped in wild boar bacon, braised short rib, roasted chestnut soup, sablefish and scallops and rose petal crème brulée. Call 604-685-3924.
Refuel (1944 West 4 Ave) is offering a three- or four-course Valentine’s menus from February 12 to 14. Options include lemon risotto, crispy Humboldt squid, roasted bone marrow, fresh local oysters and peanut-chocolate parfait. Call 604-288.7905.
Cobre Nuevo Latino (cobrerestaurant.com) and Deacon’s Corner (deaconscorner.ca) will both be open for lunch and dinner (as well as breakfast at Deacon’s Corner) from February 13 to 28. Visit the restaurant websites for details.