Ancora, Vancouver

November 2015

A caviar festival or something similar caught our eye watching TV. It turned out to be taking place at Ancora, formerly C restaurant. C, along with Rain City Grill, had been for many years great Vancouver dining destinations, C presided over by chef Robert Clark, both restaurants owned by Harry Kambolis. A couple of years ago C and RCG went out of business and have been taken over by Viaggio Hospitality Group. RCG became Beach Bay Café (which we were not crazy about), C is now Ancora.

Ancora is billed as Peruvian cuisine, chef is Ricardo Valverde (formerly of Blue Water Café in Yaletown) assisted by sushimeister Yoshi Tabo. The menu is 90% seafood.

They have done a charming seductive redecoration of the already-spectacular crescent–shaped False Creek waterfront space. Even in November there’s no problem imagining a summer dinner on the patio surrounded by huge white boats moored 20 meters away. The feeling is light in colour and texture, really a classy and comforting dining room.

The welcome is neutral, the place about 20% subscribed at 7 on an evening before a mid-week holiday but fills up to 70% by the time we leave at 8:30. Waitress is pretty and courteous but verging on anxious and inexperienced. Sommelier is suave, possibly South American, impressively knowledgeable. Atmosphere is festive, adult, never noisy.

We had four starters. Salmon tartare was chunks, sour-flavoured, with finely-chopped scallions and cilantro, and was tasty but just dressed chopped salmon. With that we had a tuna belly sashimi which while not quite the melt-in-your-mouth kind of thing you find at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fishmarket, was respectable with simple wasabe and soy sauce.

From there are things improved. A big succulent tempura roll nigiri sushi was crunchy and packed with prawn flavour. Finally a lobster risotto which they kindly split between us was heavenly, the lobster easily at a PEI level and completely imbuing the rice with its richness.

Sommelier endorsed a Sicilian planeta white which was very acidic but substantial and refreshing at $73. He had a good spontaneous command of Sicilian varietals suggesting a fair span of knowledge. The wine list gave in to temptation to group products according to somebody’s idea of “light, refreshing” or “rich, buttery”, and was short of spectacular in breadth.

$158 pre-tip without any main courses. This place isn’t cheap but neither is the real estate, and the food is getting into the league to justify the money and the very pretty room.

Vancouver needs world-class creative haute cuisine which I don’t think it’s achieved since the disappearance or decline of  Lumiere, Bishop’s, C, even Il Giardino. Ancora could if they kick the nicer seafood flavours up a notch or two grow into something close to that. Food (range 7.2-8.8), service 7.8, ambience 9.3, value 7.5. Will give it another try in six months or so.

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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