It’s not surprising that I would want to try a restaurant that right off the bat describes its food as:
“Meat-centric, off-cut farmhouse fare simply prepared with immaculate ingredients and thoughtful creativity.”
Vancouver isn’t exactly overflowing with restaurants that flaunt being “meat-centric.”
But even more importantly, I respect their approach to sourcing the meat:
“The gastronomically daring menu focuses on whole-animal cookery prepared with the utmost integrity. Each and every component has been thoughtfully nurtured by the restaurant’s executive chef, Wesley Young, from field to finish. We work closely with surrounding farms and farmers to organically raise healthy, happy animals and grow custom produce. Employing classic butchery traditions and simple, contemporary techniques, Wildebeest presents delicious menus of the season. This is food for food lovers.”
Good quality meat and plenty of it? Sign me up…
The two storey Gastown restaurant is located inside a charming, refurbished 19th-century building with exposed brick walls, high ceilings, a cozy bar, and an open prep area. In addition to the regular tables, there are a couple of long communal dining tables, which I’m all for except for when you get stuck next to someone annoying (d’oh!), but hey, it’s all part of the experience I guess. The place is pretty hip happening, but a little on the loud side. There is apparently also a wine bar downstairs, which I did not check out.
The cocktail menu was impressive – I couldn’t resist the horseradish sour (London Dry Gin, Lemon, Horseradish, Honey, Egg White, Black Pepper) – I’ve never come across a horseradish drink before. I think few people in this world love horseradish more than I do. And yet, that drink was not enjoyable. It tasted like someone had swirled some alcohol around an almost empty jar of horseradish to get the last remaining bits out. Sadly, rather than being intriguing or sophisticated, it was simply overpowering and unappetizing.
The Huckleberry Fizz (Bourbon, French Vermouth, Huckleberry, Grapefruit, Egg White, Soda) was tasty – I liked the fizz/foam at the top. Enjoyable, but not outstanding. One of the co-owners, Josh Pape comes from The Diamond – and the cocktails menu reminded me strongly of the one there. Everything looks good on paper, but unfortunately doesn’t quite live up to my expectations.
Chewy heirloom beet salad (salted pears, goat’s milk ricotta, crispy milk). I know they’re trying to be all creative and such, but the presentation was confusing at best. I felt like they had forgotten to give me the other three quarters of my appetizer. It tasted great though. The beets were very sweet, and the salted pear was unusual and refreshing. The crispy milk was also a novelty (it really tasted like milk, except… crispy).
Crispy pork & polenta croquettes, tomato jam. My friend really enjoyed these croquettes. They were crispy on the outside with very tender pulled pork on the inside. The tomato jam served as a nice dip.
Natural Angus beef cheek, vanilla roasted rutabaga, shallot crumb, carrot jus (image at top of post). The beef cheeks were tender. The preparation of the dish was unique in that for flavour, it relied more on the carrot jus than heavy seasoning of the meat. The jus was plentiful, which I like, and unusual in a good way. It went very well with both the meat and the rutabaga, and tied the dish together nicely. And when’s the last time you saw rutabaga on a menu? I liked how it was served, in two massive wedges. It was tender and tasty – you could definitely taste the lovely vanilla, but it wasn’t screaming for attention. I didn’t have the shallot crumbs since they contain gluten.
Dry-aged Angus beef ribeye, roasted potatoes, hay jus, arugula – 15 oz. The ribeye was delicious. The meat was perfectly medium-rare and had a great sear. It came with a very flavorful smoked salt. I didn’t taste much of the hay jus though. And the potatoes were beautifully charred and fabulous.
Something I’ve never seen on a menu before was “A 6 pack for the kitchen – 9”. Which is exactly what it sounds like. It does help to create a sort of community feel in the restaurant, and at the very least makes you give some thought to the people preparing your food.
We opted out of dessert, partly because none of the offerings spoke to us, and partly because we were tired of the lack of service.
The server was friendly and nice. But service was definitely lacking. Drink glasses stood empty. And then they were taken away without asking if we’d like another. We went long periods without being checked on. Also, I think that the family style dining should have been mentioned by the server. I doubt most people read the fine print on the menu, and even if they do, they probably don’t take it to heart – the rend is somewhat new to the Vancouver dining scene. It would be nice if the server had brought it up, especially if they pick up that we’re not really ordering family-style.
The food didn’t blow me away, but I did really enjoy it. I appreciated the quality of the locally sourced ingredients, and that they were trying new things with preparation and flavors. I even like the family style serving concept. I just recommend thinking through your order to make sure you’re in agreement about what you’re party is ordering in terms of food preferences, allergies, etc. – otherwise, check to see if they’d be able to serve dishes in the regular style.
I liked the price point of most of the dishes – most appetizers were under $10 and and all mains except for two were under $18. The pricing goes hand-in-hand with the family style concept, encouraging you to try more dishes. I did think that the ribeye was overpriced though at $42 for a mere 15 ounces. I’m willing to pay a premium for higher quality meat, but I feel that something starting with a 3 would’ve been more appropriate.
As mentioned, the weakest link was the service. Everyone there was very friendly and welcoming, so I don’t think it would require a major overhaul. All that’s required is to simply pay attention to the guests and their needs.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Wildebeest. I’m not raving about it, but I’m definitely glad I checked it out, and I look forward to seeing how it evolves. Wildebeest is certainly a welcome addition to the Vancouver restaurant scene.