For an establishment named after the Roman goddess of the hearth, the stone fireplace at this relatively new, wine-focused Vancouver restaurant and bar is surprisingly small and inconspicuous. But what the hearth lacks in divine stature, the space and menu make up for in size and length. Indeed, behind the brown roadside façade of this boxy strip-mall interruption lies a commodious (albeit still very brown) sanctuary of dining rooms framed by soaring wooden rafters and tall windows. The food offerings here are equally grand, at least upon first glance: The menu lists an impressive number of enticing dishes from bitter chocolate-braised rabbit to a forest mushroom-stuffed, milk-fed veal chop. And the wine list is only slightly more modest, with an emphasis on West Coast bottlings.
On evidence of my initial visit, however, the dishes at this wine-savvy restaurant need quite a bit of tuning. More specifically, too many outdated plating concepts get in the way of the food at times. I’d definitely go back for more of that tender, rich, milk-fed veal chop, for example, were it not for the accompanying celery-root purée, which was served very cold, smeared on the plate in the form of so-last-year skid marks. While there’s a sound culinary concept anchoring this dish, its execution requires some rethinking.
Similarly, while the pappardelle with bitter chocolate-braised rabbit was hearty and flavorful, it was paired with brandy-soaked cherries–appropriate in, say, a manhattan–whose high alcohol content I found distracting. And the venison tenderloin was served with the most expansive bed of red quinoa I’ve ever encountered–and topped, oddly, with a couple of pea shoots for some color.
Such missteps should be fairly easy to remedy, however, and in light of Vancouver’s dearth of fine dining establishments, this hub of game and grape may just keep the home fires burning.