I've often found that when it comes to a new restaurant debut, positive hype can lead to bitter disappointment. But what happens when a restaurant brings with it both hype but also notoriety in the form of its proprietor? Uwe Boll, the Vancouver-based film director got the city's residents talking when he boldly stated in the media that Vancouver is sorely lacking haute cuisine. Some of this didn't sit well with those who could immediately rattle off the likes of Hawksworth, Le Crocodile, Bishops, and Lumiere (back in the day). How could this director-turned-restauranteur claim that Vancouver - a self-professed and globally acclaimed foodie town - lacks good food? If you look around to places like Ask for Luigi, Cuchillo, Forage, Homer St. Cafe, L'Abbatoir, La Quercia, Pidgin and Wildebeest among many others, we're a pretty lucky city filled with a diverse selection that's meant to challenge the average palette.
But guess what? He's not entirely wrong. Those restaurants I just rattled off are places where the food is really, really fantastic and consistently so every time I go; but make no mistake, none of them are at a level that's reaching the quality of a Michelin restaurant. Perhaps that's not their purpose and that's fine - but Boll's right that it's time Vancouver reaches that level. The city, filled with excellent cuisine at every turn deserves a glittering star - an establishment that really stands out. Hawksworth - while sitting pretty above the pack in terms of excellence in execution, a superb wine collection and ambiance, is still not quite there.
In my recent visit to the newly opened Bauhaus - on their first 'official night' - I got a chance to sit down with Uwe Boll after my meal to chat about his passion to put Vancouver on the culinary world map. Bottle of special German spirits in hand and a few glasses - he just assumes we'd want some - he decides to sit down with my friends and I and wax poetic about his restaurant, about Vancouver's potential. He's both direct and passionate, charming but opinionated. He's like the loud uncle who always has something to say but you know deep down he's right. In my day job working for a big German company, I encounter folks like Boll on a daily basis and felt none of the characterizations that others have presented in the media. This is simply a guy who wants and expects the best out of a city that so desperately wants to be taken seriously on the world stage, five years post-Olympics. I get what Boll is talking about - unless you've experienced food at the Michelin star or even Relais and Chateaux level, you'll think what he's talking about is pure nonsense or snobbery.
So the big question now was whether a film director with a penchant for haute cuisine be able to pull off a lofty idea like Bauhaus - haute German cuisine (many Vancouverites I've spoken to are curious to know how to make schnitzel more modern) - by convincing Michelin star chef Stefan Hartmann to come all the way to Vancouver to execute on the concept. Hartmann, who stopped by for a quick chat, was both humble and critical about his team's efforts - that they're not quite there yet but he's confident they'll get it right as it's early days.
I tried the chef's six-course tasting menu to get a feel for Hartmann's direction and it blew me away. Seriously. The elegance and subtlety in Hartmann's textures at every turn left me curious and a little startled - I was eating superb, modern German fare utilizing fresh, local ingredients that left lingering pleasantries on the tongue.
Hartmann began his carefully orchestrated journey with the trout as its first course - a fish that can easily be dry and flat, even at the finest restaurants. With his trout, it was soft and supple, yielding an almost sashimi-like bite but velvety in texture. It sat on a platform of lyonnais sausage, a pink charcuterie round floating in a shallow pond of velvety lemon butter to bring the bite and savory balance to the dish. Arugula and roe eggs were sprinkled for added texture. His second dish was an homage to Vancouver with a nod to our current spot prawn season. His version of the prawn came married with white asparagus bathed in hollandaise and tarragon. It was a tasty precursor to the surprise of the evening, his Onsen Egg. If you like poached eggs in the morning like I do - I make them daily - then this is the most luxurious version of bacon and eggs you'll ever have. The Japanese used the sous vide technique well before the western world became famous for it. Cooked in 65 degrees Celsius in their shells, it allows the egg yolk to cook longer than normal while the egg white can still remain relatively runny. So it's a bit of a reverse poach. Paired with crisp parma ham and Jerusalem artichoke, it was a delightful pause between the seafood and oncoming meat dishes.
The fourth and fifth courses were the climax of Hartmann's thoughtfully orchestrated and supremely executed plates. The poached veal tenderloin served with corn, polenta and peas was tremendously tender but still with a bite and set the stage for the veal cheeks, served with morel mushrooms, salad hearts and a brioche dumpling - so flavourful and the best dish of the evening. Both veal dishes capped off an evening where detail placed on every bite and flavour was evident in Hartmann's approach.
For dessert and the night's sixth course, Hartmann went with a rhubarb and strawberry dish with white chocolate sponge cake and tonka bean ice cream - perfect light fare to balance out an evening rich with flavours and culinary weight.
As with every new restaurant, there are kinks that have to be ironed out. The lighting still needs work - currently it's much too bright for dinner, especially when the sun goes down and the lighting gets accentuated by the darkness outside. Sometimes I felt very distracted by how bright the dining room was - it felt like a canteen. The other thing to iron out is the wine pairing with the tasting menu. While the whites were paired perfectly with the first three courses, the pairings for the two veal dishes were fairly weak. The grenache for the veal tenderloin overpowered the dish and I would have liked to see them try an Oregon pinot like Erath or even BC's Foxtrot pinot to bring a supporting body of flavor to balance the veal instead of masking the flavour that the Grenache tended to do for me. As for the veal cheeks, a bordeaux is a safe choice but the one paired that evening for me was entirely the wrong tasting profile for this dish. Don't get me wrong, the wine itself was fine to sip on its own (which is what I did after a few bites with it) but it was just the wrong wine selection for me. That said, I understand it will take a while to get the right wines in and BC is a notoriously tough province to deal with. But there are definitely opportunities to get the pairing right with the existing inventory of wines currently available here. I look forward to my next visit to Bauhaus where they'll have figured this out.
Well, it's certainly early days but in my opinion Boll and Hartmann have nearly pulled it off. If they can work out the wine pairing for the latter half of the tasting menu, the ambiance with the lighting, Boll will have the basis of what he needs to bring a Michelin star to Vancouver. He's got the most fundamental thing right - amazing food - and his is the closest establishment to potentially reach that lofty goal.
1 West Cordova