Ancora, Vancouver

November 2015 (more recent below)

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 you can almost reach out and touch. 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.

August, 2017

It’s summer, and this very pretty venue presents a patio service overlooking False Creek, alive with marine traffic. I fear for this very nice restaurant’s survival because it was undersubscribed at lunch on a Thursday, because if anything the food and service was even better than 18 months ago.

The welcome was neutral (as I look back I used exactly the same language last time). It seemed as though the young hostess was waiting for somebody else who hadn’t shown up. Of about 40 tables 80% were (and remained) unoccupied. The server seemed indifferent canvassing us about water. But things went straight north from there and we were well looked after.

This place, similarly to Kissa Tanto, offers an Asian-new-world fusion, here Japanese and Peruvian. There was a respectable sushi menu with a spring salmon special and several nice sashimi and rolls. There is a caviar special. For first plates and mains the latino side takes over and there is ceviche, a prawn causa (potato dish) and antichuco (skewered fish pieces) of steelhead trout. The mains are fish dishes including paella, and then chicken and steak.

We went for a prawn roll and the salmon sashimi, both completely respectable by international standards, the salmon silky and lively-fresh. We also tried one pickled mackerel nigiri which was sour, oily and fabulous. The antichuco was respectable and perfectly cooked, but the Peruvian paella was a real haute-cuisine comfort-food treat, even in the face of its being the last dish (I’m convinced that our hunger and anticipation always favours early dishes). A black rice done al dente was mixed with chorizo, corn, and a white fish slice (the menu said baby shrimp but I guess that wasn’t available) with chopped peppers. The marine flavour of the sauce was richly comforting and complex, sour without a hint of sharpness. The fish slice being slightly overdone didn’t seem to make any difference to the satisfaction of this wonderful dish.

The lady server who seemed indifferent splashing out the water turned out to be informed in detail about the food and more than willing to elaborate on her experience of each dish. A young guy who seemed to be backing her up eventually agreed to send the sommelier over, he was the same one whose knowledge of Sicilian wine impressed us the last time we were here. Maybe partly because the place was pretty well empty he was happy to chat, and was very knowledgeable and recommended a lovely unusual-varietal (the wine list isn’t online) from a BC producer we didn’t know. A bargain at $66. Lunch was a reasonable $180 with a 20% tip for two of us.

Why is this place not packed on a sunny Thursday? The food and service are first class, and it’s one of the prettiest venues in town. Based on this limited experience they won’t be able to meet their overhead with skilled front-end staff and a half-dozen Asian guys chopping and sauteeing away in the kitchen. I’ll be very sad if Ancora doesn’t make a go of it and gets replaced by a Timmy’s or a Keg and Cleaver.

Food 9.3, service 9.2, ambience 9.3, value 8.8, peace and quiet 9.0 (might not be quite so tranquil if it was packed).

February 2018

Back again, this time we were four for dinner. The restaurant was better-subscribed this time, probably about 60% full. It was bustling but not particularly noisy and of course being winter we were indoors and the maritime environment wasn’t really visible.

We went for three starters and three mains. The starters were the lobster risottoa tempura prawn roll and steelhead trout. The lobster risotto was just terrific as it had been previously, really one of the nicer dishes available anywhere in town. I found the baked trout a bit soft and lacking in flavour but others (who got at the skin before I could get my hands on it) liked it better. The prawn sushi was high class, crunchy and satisfying.

The mains were a large version of our favourite lobster risotto which was predictably just wonderful as noted above, seared scallops and pork belly, and if memory serves something with octopus. All absolutely fresh, satisfying, and full of flavour contrast and variability.

Our server this time was a fairly fast-moving young guy, knowledgeable but for my taste a bit speedy. He was however attentive, quick to provide anything we requested, and very smart and creative in his descriptions of the dishes and suggestions. An attractive Asian girl brought many of the dishes, and described them in a beguiling seductive way: “Here we have the wonderful and tasty lobster risotto with its… ” etc. Again the sommelier was full of personality, instantly knowledgeable about even very obscure wine. We drank a veneta white which he recommended, which might have been a shade on the light side but was certainly in the fresh-forward class we had requested.

It was $400 for four but we spared no expense, each had a cocktail before dinner, and added a few glasses of wine at the end.

Not much change in our opinion of this lovely place. Please see the numbers for last August.

February 2019

A winter birthday lunch, and only a confirmation of our celebration of this lovely place.

There crispy prawn causa was a beautifully-presented delight, a long plate with four crisp prawns, set up in a radish and avocado stack along with causa which is a Peruvian potato purée. Delicious contrast of flavours, simple, satisfying. Service on this occasion was cheerful and knowledgeable.

See above scores.

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 40 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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