Questions: 1) Which legendary French chef is credited with inventing canned tomatoes? 2) What is a colossal squid? 3) Which Vancouver restaurant charges the most for pasta? Answers: 1) Auguste Escoffier, in the late 19th century. 2) Duh, a type of very big squid—one caught last year weighed 450 kilograms. 3) Not Cioppino’s, where fettuccine alla bolognese sets you back $20, or glamorous Il Giardino, where spaghetti carbonara runs $16.95.
At the Top of Vancouver Revolving Restaurant, plain old penne arrabbiata runs an astonishing $26. As any nonagenarian in a nursing home will tell you, it costs money to sit and watch the world go by.
One recent night, we went out to eat at the Cascade Room on Main Street. We’d done pasta the previous evening, so venison bolognese with preserved lemon and capers didn’t appeal. Salads—brrr, pass. Risotto, nah.
Starving, indecisive, and cranky because all the booths were full and we were stuck with a table at centre ice, we did the sensible thing and sent alcohol coursing through our veins. Even though the chalkboard above the bar is rife with options by the glass and the cocktail list is longer than the Bible, it felt like a beer night, and brewskis go with burgers like burgers go with chips.
If only because it means you can nip next door to borrow a cup of sugar, opening restaurants side by side seems a sensible idea, which was no doubt the thinking of the group behind Habit Lounge when it launched the Cascade Room last fall. But where Habit riffs on a midcentury-modern rec room, this is upmarket British pub, with inky-dark walls, capacious horseshoe booths, and a long bar.
At the rear beside the open kitchen, the room widens and morphs into cozy and bistro-esque, more suitable for the duck confit, fisherman’s stew, and posher pub fare served here—including a Sloping Hills Farm organic pork trio shortly to go on the menu. A few sly nods acknowledge the motherland: retro beer mats read “Thirst come, thirst served”; drum-shaped lampshades bear images of Queen Victoria looking less po-faced than usual; and a large glass panel is engraved with a crown and the injunction “Keep calm and carry on”—a World War II slogan and a great line to hurl with a stiff upper lip.
Pints of Russell Brewing’s Cascade lager in hand, starving, but less irritable once we snagged a booth, we got stuck into calamari—not cut from a colossal squid, but a large serving (as it should be at $11) that was plenty for two as a starter. Nicely tender, the batter inflected with smoked paprika, the ringlets came with a pot of aioli lively with roasted red pepper and caramelized onion whose leftovers we hung on to for chip-dipping purposes.
He offered a bite of his salmon burger, but while I routinely eat off others’ plates, forks, chopsticks, and fingers, there’s something about biting into an already bitten burger”¦ Anyway, “Very good,” he said, which is Pete shorthand for “obviously wild and local and Ocean Wise–ly politically correct, as is all the fish here, and the salmon is perfectly cooked—note the roseate hue of the middle. And I rather like the roasted tomatoes, although I’d prefer they were warm.”
Maybe I’ve been reading too many nutrition-police maunderings recently, but burger? Yes. Cheese? Thumping great yes. Bacon? Bring it on. The buns from Mix the Bakery are square, and they don’t turn into that disgusting pasty mush that most do as you reach the last few bites. The burger has real flavour.
Chef Travis Williams calls it his mother’s secret recipe, but admits to tossing in garlic, shallots, and sauces of the hot, tomato, Worcester, and HP variety, which help keep it moist. Bonus points to our serveuse for offering malt vinegar with the chips, which were blazingly hot, crisp, and too many.
The final bill? Food came to $36 before tax and tip. And why all these questions? Because—pause for drum roll—in a nod to British pub culture, Monday night is quiz night at the Cascade Room: general knowledge, registration at 6 p.m. for a 6:30 start, a maximum of four per team, limited to 40 people, $2 to take part, and the winning team scoops the lot for the charity of its choice.