Forage, Vancouver.

August 2013

We were invited to dine here by my wonderfully talented chef cousin who in fairness to her hadn’t been before. In a certain lighthearted frame of mind I pictured being given trowels and sharp knives and sent out into a yard full of root vegetables and squawking chickens to source our own ingredients.

But no it was just another austere plain brown wood room with disarmingly ordinary-looking servers. The sell is sustainability and locavore-ism, neither of which I have much time for but can put up with as long as they aren’t an excuse for bad food, which mercifully isn’t the case at this place.

I couldn’t quite characterize the young male waiter’s attitude, which seemed a shifting mix of diffidence, stridency, pat phrases, and too-much-information on some things and not-enough on others. He was just about completely unfamiliar with the wine list. But arrogant (that server characteristic for which there is a really special place in my heart) he wasn’t.

Spicy kale chips arrived. What a dreadful idea. All of the trendy false healthiness of dried seaweed with none of its flavor or substance. The plate went back almost untouched.

At various times and places we had halibut (a non-menu special) overcooked as it nearly always is, roast lamb slices (again a special), absolutely delicious somehow infused with lemon and rosemary, four tiny shucked oysters with mignonette (just fine), and a “foraged and cultivated” mushroom dish with caraway and goat cheese, really wonderful with crisp bread soaked in butter. Wine was Poplar Grove pinot gris, and I had a glass of Burrowing Owl Merlot with the lamb that was disappointing.

Dinner for four with $100 worth of wine: $280 pre-tip.

The chef says of himself on the website:

Chris Whittaker grows his own vegetables, catches his own fish (or tries to at least!), makes his own preserves, composts all of his food waste, keeps mason bees to pollinate his plants, hunts for the purpose of conserving our land and feeding his family, and forages to connect himself with nature and remind himself where our food often comes from.

It’s this kind of ideology about food that has in my opinion come close to ruining the pleasure of eating in the western world. I looked carefully but I was relieved to find no suggestion that Mr. Whittaker is preventing cancer or strokes (or trying to at least!). And underneath it all he’s not a bad cook.

But there several places in the same part of town where the food is just as good, prices no higher (and some much lower), and no necessity to protect yourself against passé self-righteousness about what you’re eating and where it comes from. 7.8 food/6.0 service/5.5 ambience/5.2 overall value.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 30 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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