by Lauren Mote
It’s hard to take a trip down memory lane if you have no memory of certain events… but that’s why history lessons are so important, and why they can immediately affect our perception once we’re educated. Gastown is an example of that. Yes, Gastown has historical charm, several industry hot spots, cobblestone roads, and transient settlers pacing up and down the streets; but only a handful of people I am guessing “get” the background. Here’s the reader’s digest version.
The “Welcome to Gastown” website promotes this neighbourhood as the 3rd largest city in Canada during a time when Canada, the nation, was created in 1867. By 1886 Gastown was incorporated into the “City of Vancouver” named for British explorer George Vancouver. So to think that Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver (Gastown) were amongst the largest cities in this country is slightly mind blowing, especially because we’ve all walked through Gastown and it’s not that big at all.
One night off, two food driven “cats”, a 5 minute walk to Gastown, one of my last unexplored resources in Vancouver. We take a walk down Water St. from it’s humble beginnings at Homer St., to it’s end around Carall St. Before making what seems to be one of the most difficult dining decisions, we pass, stop and read the menus at Water St. Cafe, Cobre, The Greedy Pig, Chill Winston, and So.cial – there is so much choice, and you’ll never find yourself confined to one genre of cuisine either. Right on the water’s edge there’s Al Porto (classical Italian); Boneta stands solo at Carall and Cordova (modern bistro); Guu Izakaya (Japanese tapas); but one of the most eclectic and most celebrated spots to visit, most likely for it’s location, is Salt Tasting Room. We chose the long way there – Carall St, make a right onto the famous “Blood Alley” – part way down the alley, various settlers are spotted under balconies doing “something” – but if you don’t bother them they don’t bother you. Alas, Salt appears out of nowhere, on the right. A long, slightly narrow joint, showcasing a chalkboard way at the back, with large harvest tables and wooden stools. It has character, but not the type that is achieved by showy posters, antiques or chandeliers; it’s very simple, and blends nicely with the exposed brick walls. Another night – we need more then meat and cheese.
As we continue walking, a dumpster-diver flicks his “stash” and gets ready to shoot – ha. Don’t mind me. As we loop back around on to Abbott St., we check out Jules – peer through the window, check out the menu, see right into the kitchen through another series of windows, see a cook scratch his head – we walk to the next place. So low and behold, we end up right where we started, at So.cial. On the lower level – their famed oyster bar and lounge, and upstairs – the bistro.
This is where critical analysis begins. I have become incapable of “not paying attention” to every detail, but some things stick out more then others – things that actually matter when dining out I think. There was one waiter – by himself, serving tables, bartending, performing wine service, running food, bussing and resetting tables. We wait several minutes before being greeted, but that’s alright, John and I can give the guy a break, he’s alone after all. We wait for a deuce by the window to be reset before we’re seated. This is a “bistro typique” no matter how you slice it, but the items on the menu have a modern spin on them. What we’ve found with many bistros is that their style of cooking, and the ingredients show resemblance to a 1980’s bistro. So.cial is more evolved.
So.cial also has a delicatessen, they cure and butcher all of their meats in-house. For first course, we couldn’t pass up a small charcuterie plate, housing many items created from the meats on site, as well as a romaine salad with crispy pancetta and anchovy dressing. Both arrive, the presentation of the charcuterie plate was unexpected, small squares and quenelles of food. The server didn’t really tell us what was on the plate when it arrived, so we were left to figure it out – it wasn’t sliced meat either. We knew there was a pork rillette coming, as well as a country pâté – we could easily identify them. But there was another item, we ate it, but had no clue what it was – all we could figure out was “meat” and “thyme”. The salad was disappointing. Whole leaves of romaine made it difficult to eat, and there seemed to be dressing (a light spreading) on one leaf, and none of the others. The pancetta and shaved parmaggiano were welcome additions to help aid in the overall taste of the dish. By this time, we have ordered a bottle of Pentâge “Pentâge” 2006 (Okanagan Valley) – a meritage blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and placed the orders for our mains. Wait times were a problem throughout the dinner – waiting for a table, waiting for a server, waiting for wine, waiting to place order, waiting for food – it was noticeable but John and I were having a good time, so it didn’t bother us too much.
I decided to have the pork loin, with celeriac purée, concasée of apples and thyme and shaved truffles. John always goes for a steak, and he had options. Because butchery is done in house, and to order, the steaks are listed at “market price” – the choices first were cuts – ribeye, striploin, or tenderloin? Then, starting at 10 oz, select your size. My dining partner is truly predictable and says “yes please” to a 12 oz ribeye (which we later discovered on the bill was $4.40 per ounce – eek).
The entrees were good. The pork and the ribeye were moist, not over cooked, and the sides were enjoyable – steak served with roasted fingerling potatoes and carrots – the only complaint, was that there were no truffles on my plate. Was it forgotten? Blended into something?
Dessert – saffron scented vanilla crème brulée with tangy lemon shortbreads, and a chocolate taster – chocolate coconut truffle, chocolate ganache, chocolate brownie with mascarpone cream, and lastly a demi-tasse of white hot chocolate. Superb finish to the meal. Bistro desserts rarely disappoint.
On the walk home, across Homer back to the reality of Yaletown, we ache with pain – we ate too much, but overall a gargantuan food experience to re-introduce Gastown into our food world. We will be back to try more specialities that this historical promenade offers up.
So.cial At Le Magasin
332 Water St.