Four Seasons’ YEW restaurant + bar delivers stellar seafood with a West Coast vibe

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Something happened during a recent dinner out at YEW restaurant + bar that shattered all expectations and shocked me personally. After cocktails and a couple of shared appetizers, our waiter brought out my main course, the paella, abundant with big chunks of salmon, sablefish, arctic char, spot prawns, scallops, mussels, and crisp red pepper. Then occurred an event I’ve never experienced in my entire life.

Yew Restaurant + Bar
West Georgia Street
604-692-4939

Open daily for breakfast 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

I could not finish it.

Not because I didn’t want to. I just could not physically take one more bite.

For someone who has sometimes been not-so-affectionately referred to as a glutton, not being able to savour every last richly flavoured morsel was one thing. The fact that it took place at one of Vancouver’s most upscale, elegant restaurants was quite another.

Under the sure navigation of restaurant chef Sean Murray and executive chef Ned Bell, YEW recently revamped its menu to focus squarely on seafood. But its generous portions are just one sign that there’s more to the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver flagship these days than new dishes to choose from. Apparently there’s also been a sea change in philosophy.

The value is a significant starting place. Everyone knows what it’s like to go to the latest swanky spot only to pay through the nose for something that doesn’t fill the stomach. From the succulent roasted scallops that come with big pieces of crispy prosciutto to the pillowy nori-lime dinner rolls to my partner’s silky sablefish in a kombu broth, we were never left wanting. Our waiter was more than happy to pack my remaining paella to go. (He even threw in a couple of chef Bell’s locally sourced, gluten-free, chewy power cookies for the next morning; Bell shares his recipe on the restaurant’s website.)

Speaking of happy, staff members certainly seemed to be. Maybe that’s because they’re wearing comfortable clothes. Gone is the usual waiter attire of a buttoned-up white shirt and black pants; the servers are in fitted plaid shirts, jeans, and sneakers. I like the more casual approach, but coming from Alberta, when I see so many people in this kind of getup I think Calgary Stampede, not Pacific Coast.

The bussers are even more dressed-down, in dark denim pants and plain ocean-blue cotton Ts—a little too laid-back for such a funkily stylish environment, which includes the expansive room’s glass-encased, wine-bottle-lined, sky-lit private dining room adjacent to a floor-to-ceiling fireplace; gorgeous tree-branch designs on enormous, square hanging lamps; and thick, glass-tiled place mats. In their suits and ties, the managers stick out like barnacles.

Then there are little flourishes like the “We make it ‘YEW shake it’ ” whisky sour. Made with lemon, sugar, egg whites, bitters, and barrel-aged house-spiced whisky, it comes in a sealed Mason jar for you to mix up yourself, quite possibly with the server’s coaching and encouragement. Once it’s suitably frothy, he takes away the lid and plops in a straw. This fun spin on the classic cocktail would never have flown at Chartwell, the Four Seasons’ former dining room. (Nor would the root-beer float on the dessert menu. Will save room for that one next time.)

While the restaurant has made a concerted effort to cast off any sense of stuffiness, it hasn’t let go of quality, standards, or creativity. Deep flavours comingle beautifully from start to finish—from the crab tacos with radish and miso-honey dressing to the caramelized bacon lollipops—and presentation is always inventive. Service is topnotch.

We took our server’s recommendations the whole way through, and the only quibble was we wished we’d known that both the scallops to start and the sablefish come with sizable sprinklings of Marcona almonds. (The latter was supposed to have spicy cashews, but they sure looked and tasted like the almonds.) The truffle aioli that comes with the Parmesan fries, by the way, is dangerously delicious.

Mains run from $24 for the wild mushroom cannelloni to $41 for a 14-ounce Black Angus striploin with creamed spinach. Just one other dish sits in the section of the menu labelled Not Fish: rack of lamb ($39) with balsamic-glazed eggplant. The other categories of mains include Steamed Fish and Grilled Fish (with dishes ranging from $26 to $29), as well as Turf and Fish.

Got out-of-town guests coming this summer? You can wow them here as much with the seafood as the distinctively West Coast down-to-earth vibe.

Menu items change with the season, and there is always a stand-alone vegan menu. Dinner for two, with three drinks, two appetizers, two mains, one side dish (those fries), one dessert, and two (weak) Americanos came to $130 before tax and tip.

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