Afterthoughts – Mauling Short Ribs at Wildebeest
Once upon a blue moon, I come across a restaurant that truly awakens the carnivore in me. The aptly named Wildebeest, brings the raw “beastiness” of the African savannah to the table in the form of robust dishes engineered to unveil the meativore in all of us. Voted the Best New Restaurant of 2013 by Vancouver’s top publications, and the city’s discerning diners, Wildebeest is fine dining without the bullshit. No tablecloth, cool and personable waiters, and one of the most trendy, design-forward spaces in the city, Wildebeest is truly a meat tour de force. Urban, and exulting downtown chic – the restaurant is at the forefront of the gentrification movement in Vancouver’s once gritty Gastown. This is Canadiana cuisine at its finest – unpretentious family style sharing dishes made from the freshest local ingredients. The meats are hormone-free and ethically raised, the seafood are certified sustainable, and all vegetables are seasonal. And most importantly, everything is locally produced to ensure freshness, with high quality standards maintained through close relationships with trusted suppliers.
On a recent trip back home to Vancouver, I sat down with a few of our visiting French friends to try this new gem of Canadiana cuisine.
Libations to start! With names like Huckleberry Fizz, Gut & Grits and Uppercut, it’s hard to resist a cocktail here. I surrendered to the “I’ll Have Another”, a concoction made of sake, poire william, coconut water, violet liqueur, soda and lime. It was refreshing but the coconut water threw a wrench in the whole composition and made the drink taste unbalanced.
Needless to say, we stuck to BC wines for the rest of the night. We accompanied our wines with smoked Castelvetrano olives (CAD$5). These succulent, oily globes popped with bursts of smokey brininess. The smokiness was intense but, when paired with the richness of the olives, worked perfectly.
Our very hip waiter recommended the ever popular crispy pork schnitzel with spiced beer mustard (CAD$9). The pork was pounded to almost wafer thin, and fried wearing a golden coat of crunchy batter.
You can’t be in Canada and not have salmon! The seasonal dish of seared Haida Gawaii line-caught wild salmon topped with ikura, adorned with grilled bread seeped in olive oil, sweet pea sauce and cucumber salad was well-executed. The salmon was perfectly seared, and I loved the flavour contrast between the briny ikura, rich fish and refreshing cucumber salad. However, I was impatient to get on to the meat dishes.
Bring it! My first encounter with sweetbread happened during lunch at a town in Bordeaux. At first, I was repulsed by this notion of eating the thymus glands of a calf, or as the French call it, ris de veau, but I threw my precautions to the wind once I had my first bite of this peculiar piece of meat. From then on, I became a true sweetbread convert. Wildebeest’s roasted veal sweetbreads with almond butter, walla walla onions and sherry gastrique (CAD$18) was every bit as delicious as the ones I’ve had in the culinary capital of the world, Paris. The buttery sweetbreads paired perfectly with the sharpness of the sherry gastrique, and the caramelised onions added pops of sweetness.
Now we come to the heavy hitters league! The slow-cooked Angus beef short rib, served with smoked salt and hay jus (CAD$17) was a beast of a dish. Just hearing the words “short rib” makes me weak at the knees, as thoughts of tender, fall-of-the-bone meat tumble into my mind. This dish encompasses everything I love about Wildebeest – superb cooking executed in the most down-to-earth way. The meat melted in the mouth, and there was enough to feed a whole family. Decadence, at its very best!
The final dish on our meat tour, the milk poached, smoked veal neck with smoked ricotta, chanterelles, and fava beans (CAD$17). Milk-poached to tender, buttery perfection, the smokiness of the veal was further enhanced by the earthiness of the chanterelles.
We had to throw in an obligatory side of harvest vegetables to lessen the meat-orgy guilt.
Sweet dreams are made of these – tonka bean ice cream, home-made nutella, chocolate cookie and hazelnut brittle (CAD$11). The first thing I asked the server was “what is a tonka bean?” He then brought over these black, flat beans that smelled of vanilla, cherry, cinnamon and liquorice all melted into one. This South American bean has been making headlines in modern haute cuisine, and lends part of its notoriety to the fact that it has been illegal in the United States since 1954 due to the chemical compound, coumarin. However, the bean has been daringly popping up on North American menus in recent times. When made into ice cream, it tastes vaguely of vanilla caramel with a touch of dark honey and liquorice. And since we were in Canada, the “great north true and free”, we happily indulged in these little beans. This outlaw ice cream paired wonderfully with the warm nuttiness of the home-made nutella and hazelnut brittle.
Since we were dining with a French crowd, we had to sample the Chef’s selection of cheeses, served with honeyed nuts and fruit bread (CAD$18). The local British Columbia cheeses won approval with the French crowd.
I love the small details, like our cheque served in the hollows of a bone (below).
Verdict: Sublime. Vancouverites have voted, and they’ve certainly voted correctly! It was a phenomenal pleasure dining in this restaurant. Everything from the cool, trendy atmosphere to the warm attentive service, to the unforgettable food makes this the perfect venue for a big feast with friends, or a cozy tete-a-tete with someone special. Hip, urban, yet with a definite stroke of class, I would recommend this to all fellow carnivores. This is one of those dinners that is definitely worth ditching your vegan / vegetarian friends for!
I am looking forward to my next visit, so I can try the roasted bone marrow luge!
120 West Hastings Street,
Vancouver, British Columbia
Tel: +604 687 6880