Alright, I need to be totally up-front about something.
For the first time in three years of doing Dish columns, my anonymity was blown upon arrival at the restaurant. I got “made.”
I felt like Donnie Brasco, a deep undercover reviewer suddenly outed in front of the very people from whom my identity was supposed to remain unknown. Fortunately, I was not taken to the back alley by a couple of thick-necked thugs and am still here now, fit and able to tell the tale.
I didn’t even have a reservation, so they must have been on the lookout for me. Photos for these columns are booked separately. The restaurant principal is simply told by the North Shore News photographer that their business is on the Dish review schedule and that the reviewer may or may not have already visited. The system works well and I usually get in and out of the review meal without tipping anyone off.
Not this time.
I was visiting Terroir Kitchen, a fantastic and most welcome new addition to the North Shore’s restaurant scene. The restaurant has an open kitchen concept. It was Kyle Wainwright, Terroir’s sous chef and accomplished Vancouver culinary pro, who clocked me, greeting me by name and telling his colleagues who I am. On the kitchen line to Wainwright’s right was none other than Terroir owner and executive chef Faizal Kassam. This was going to be interesting.
As a lone diner, I asked to sit at the bar, a cosy, five-seater situated at the far corner of the room. Terroir is a clean, modern space, stripped down considerably since it housed La Regalade. The walls are painted in one of my favourite tones, what I’d call French farmhouse blue. I estimated Terroir’s capacity at just over 50 seats, including a few nicely situated outdoor spots on a south-facing patio.
Now, you might suggest that with my identity revealed, my experience at Terroir is not representative of that of the average guest. I’d have to disagree. In my opinion, Terroir is poised for greatness for any visit.
Why? Well, Kassam and Wainwright are on the line most nights, by their own account. This ensures consistency of dishes and impeccable attention to detail on every plate leaving the kitchen.
Further, the menu is small, focused, and exceptionally well thought out, designed to deliver the goods every time. Each ingredient plays an integral collaborative role in its dish, punching above its weight and making the whole much greater than the sum of its parts. Service has a fluid, organic quality to it, superlatively professional but naturally warm; there was nothing contrived about it at any point. Every member of staff I encountered was exceptionally knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the food and wine on offer and exhibited solid intuition on when to engage with me and when to allow me to just enjoy my meal, uninterrupted.
I am not typically one for hyperbole, but it must be said: my Terroir dining experience was flawless. From the pace of the meal to the quality of service, from the amazing flavours of every bite to the smart, thoughtful and undeniably interesting (albeit small) wine list, this meal raised the bar for the remainder of 2016’s reviews.
Chef Kassam began his career as a dishwasher in this very location more than a decade and a half ago. He has added some impressive chef creds to his resume since then, which include time at Bin 941, Bacchus, Hawksworth, and, most recently, an extended stretch with Cibo Trattoria & Uva Wine Bar at the Moda Hotel, where he ultimately became executive chef. Kassam has brought both downtown hipness and progressive cooking rooted in proven Mediterranean traditions to the North Shore, minus any pretence or wallet-busting price tags.
The menu consists mostly of self-styled “small plates” designed to share between diners. These are still sizeable dishes, though, make no mistake, and in practice straddle the line between substantial appetizers and full-on mains. As a foodie, there are certain things that I feel obligated to order when I see them appear on a menu. Bone marrow is one of these; it featured as an appetizer special on the evening of my visit. Two halves of a sizeable, roasted beef bone, smoothly split down the middle, lined a rectangular plate along with a mound of coarse salt, a salad of rare, in-season ramps (pickled), parsley, and capers, and a hefty stack of grilled focaccia bread. The soft, buttery marrow in the bones was simply delicious, with rich, round, roasted flavours. A glass of medium-bodied, plummy, faintly fig-like Barbera paired nicely with this course.
Next I tried Stracci, a dish of local morel mushrooms served with garlic, thyme, and butter atop house-made pasta ribbons, all dressed with shaved Grana Padano cheese. The woodsy, earthy morels were lifted but not overwhelmed by the garlicky accompaniments. I washed the mushrooms down with a glass of Albarino, one of the most food-friendly white wines around and another thing I try to order when I see it on menus, which is sadly rare.
My final dish was an enormous serving of Crispy Pork Belly, prepared as confit, seared, and then finished in a hot oven, resulting in a thin layer of ultra-crisp, delicious crackling around the fatty, succulent meat. The pork belly was served atop a bed of swollen, tender Du Puy lentils in cabernet vinegar, with a smudge of potent, heavily smoked cauliflower puree. Complex, well-integrated flavours and textures prevailed. I indulged in a glass of complex and noteworthy wine I’ve never seen on our market before: a Turkish rose from the Gallipoli Peninsula, made of Malbec, Merlot and indigenous varietal Karasakiz.
My meal (three plates, three glasses) was $96 before gratuity. Terroir Kitchen. 2232 Marine Dr., West Vancouver. 604-922-9266. terroirkitchen.com
Chris Dagenais served as a manager for several restaurants downtown and on the North Shore. A self-described wine fanatic, he earned his sommelier diploma in 2001. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. North Shore News dining reviews are conducted anonymously (although for this review Chris was identified by restaurant staff) and all meals are paid for by the newspaper.