Boulevard Kitchen, Vancouver.

December 2019

We made this our dinner destination on one of a two-night anniversary weekend in the city. It’s a bustling cheerful and classier-than-expected place – more expensive than expected too – with a noisy and casual overlay to its otherwise special-night-out feel. The food is good enough to almost justify the cost and the hurry-up service.

Entering in early December the lobby of the Sutton Place Hotel where this restaurant is located there’s lots of Christmas cheer and excitement, well-dressed people, and warmth. The restaurant entry is informal, you feel like you’re walking through a bar, but the welcome is quick and pleasant. We were taken to a half-circle private banquette, the high sides of which shielded us a bit from the substantial noise. Robin moved around from the other side and we sat together, able to hear one another.

Server was an older woman in a uniform top projecting a demeanor of her, and by extension the restaurant, having been around long enough to know all the tricks, although Boulevard has only been open for a couple of years. The menu is short, more than half seafood, but lamb, beef, and pasta are available. The wine list is adequately representative of major regions and understandably emphasizes whites and local BC products.

We had picked up for just over $100 a 2013 Chambolle-Musigny village bottle from the not-bad wine store next door in the hotel, and paid the $50 corkage for, we thought, something better than we could have ordered off the list for about the same price. It was decanted and nicely served by a polite young middle-aged gentleman sommelier.

We shared starters of six little oysters and octopus with vegetable accompaniments (I notice the on-line menu is completely different from what was presented to us last night). Perfect fresh cold oysters with three sauces, lemon, and horseradish, were delicious with their sharp mignonette. The octopus pieces were tender and deep-ocean-flavoured, with a beautifully balanced sauce and multiple vegetable accompaniment. There were however only about six little sugar-cube-sized octopus pieces.

Robin had a terrific seafood linguine as her main: shrimp and (we think) a tender white fish, the sauce dominated by lemon and sharp Parmesan, really a satisfying treat with the glass of Burrowing Owl pinot grigio she ordered. Mine was a lamb duo which I expected might be tender seared meat plus something longer-cooked, but instead was the expected tenderloin along with a sirloin with eggplant which had been prepared two or three different ways. Again a fully-satisfying and perfectly-prepared dish, with the three small tenderloin pieces gloriously rare and packed with light lamb flavor.

A couple of times, especially with the main course, servers arrived talking loudly across our conversation and set the food in front of us with a speedy scripted verbal presentation as though they had far too much to do and needed to get on with other more important things. There are enough restaurants where staff treat you with respect that as selective consumers nobody should have to put up with this kind of nonsense, especially in a place with this kind of self-entitlement. And price.

The cadence of service was fast: we arrived at six and were out the door shortly after seven. This apparent emphasis on turning tables over was one of the the weak points of our experience at Boulevard. Our bill was about $300, which plus the cost of our wine and a good tip put us up into the rich end of the 400s, and for that money we seemed to hope for a bit more classy respectful service and a more relaxing experience (like we found at Toptable’s Elisa the next night) instead of being treated like they were doing us a favour taking $350+ off our hands and kicking us out the door. Who the hell do we think we are?

We might go back, probably for lunch, but would know enough to manage our meal by ordering slowly, one dish at a time.

Food 9.3, service 5.5, ambience 8.0, value 6.0, peace and quiet 6.5

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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