There is a level of safety exhibited on many of the seafood menus around Vancouver, as if restaurateurs are wary of upsetting the palates of diners that have grown accustomed to the dominant triumvirate of local fish: salmon, halibut, sablefish and spot prawns.
It is fitting, then, that Coquille, a fresh and welcome addition to our city’s upscale dining landscape, should be situated squarely in the middle of Gastown, a community that has produced some of the most exciting, culturally-defining food of the last decade.
You see, Coquille does not play it safe. Rather, through informed innovation and a foundation of proven technique (the kitchen is helmed by chef/co-owners Jack Chen and Lee Cooper, of L’Abattoir fame) the restaurant challenges our expectations and exposes us to some of the lesser-known pleasures of the Pacific.
A recent midweek visit put me in the centre of a hopping room (reservations are strongly recommended) situated in the former Secret Location space at the corner of Carrall and Water. The space has been radically transformed for the better, with an overall nautical theme and inviting aqua blue accents offset by bright coral booths that afford the illusion of sitting in a seashell.
The menu is a delight of seasonal fare, from which I sampled eight varieties of briny, immaculately fresh oysters on the half shell, served simply with mignonette. A wonderful dish of lightly battered, deep-fried smelts with aioli followed, making for an exceptional accompaniment to a glass of crisp and mineral-forward Muscadet.
I was compelled to try the Beef Tartare next as I felt it was a bold offering from a seafood-focussed kitchen and I am pleased to report it was one of the better iterations I’ve tried in Vancouver, with impossibly delicate squares of lean beef interspersed with preserved chili, heady nori and notes of sesame.
A gorgeous crudo of buttery, understated sea bream featured segments of blood orange and fragrant fennel (other crudo offerings include hamachi, geoduck and mackerel), while a final dish of skate wing, an outstanding and indulgent example served à la meuniere (dredged in flour and then fried with a tangy citrus and caper brown butter) solidified Coquille as my new go-to destination for boundary-pushing seafood.
Creative cocktails abound in the stylish bar and lounge area.
Coquillefineseafood.com, 181 Carrall Street