Great chefs can take you on great adventures, and Andrea Carlson does just that at her newly opened Burdock & Co. She guides diners on a Super, Natural British Columbia trip with stops at inner-city gardens along the way. A recent meal showcased locally foraged spruce tips, burdock grown in Pemberton (and featured in a fancy cocktail), and bright organic eggs from a Vancouver urban farm.
Carlson was the executive chef at Bishop’s for many years, and she’s brought that restaurant’s tenets of beautiful plating and high-quality ingredients to her new Main Street spot. But Burdock & Co’s menu differs in that it consists of small plates that are meant to be shared. Dishes are priced accordingly: the most expensive item available during our visit was beef strip loin for $19, and most dishes run about $9 to $12 each.
“The idea was to create a place that served organic, local, farmers markets–sourced products and making that approach more accessible to people, making it a real neighbourhood restaurant,” Carlson says in a phone call following the Straight’s visit. It’s definitely got a welcoming atmosphere. With painted planks of wood and honeycomb wall tiles in hues of white and dark grey, the restaurant feels like a refurbished farmhouse.
The objective here is to experience and savour as many taste sensations as possible.
Take those aforementioned spruce tips, which accompany black garlic, sorrel mushroom, and fire-roasted green farro, a tangy, tasty ancient grain. Carlson tempers the tips’ tartness with a mix of simple syrup and pickling liquid.
“Spruce tips have a very particular, citrusy flavour, so we candy them somewhat to tone that down,” she says. “It’s fun to pick up citrus notes in the wild products we have in the province, rather than leaning on lemons all the time.”
Resembling miniature Christmas trees, spruce tips also appear on a plate of pickled vegetables that includes red and golden beets. Carlson is fond of pickling, not just for its jolt of flavour but for its very practical purpose.
“It’s about preservation,” Carlson says. “Some things are extremely brief in their seasons, and if we don’t pickle something like that we only get to use it for a few days. It extends the life of the product and allows us to purchase more. We want to support as many people as we can.”
Some of those people include the folks behind Sole Food, which transforms unused urban land into street produce farms; Hives for Humanity, an apiary in the Downtown Eastside; and Urban Digs, a sustainable Metro Vancouver farming operation.
Used in innovative combinations, the ingredients speak for themselves. The charred-radicchio chimichurri that’s spooned over the meltingly rare beef strip loin is tantalizing in itself. Add in a little fennel pollen and some slightly sweet Montaña cheese from Salt Spring Island Cheese Company, and you’ve got a dish worth coming back for.
Then there’s burdock itself. Teeny fried strips of it adorn a fillet of halibut that’s served in a bowl of warm pine mushroom and burdock “tea”. With braised spring radish and hop shoots, this soothing broth could also easily stand on its own.
As part of a cocktail called Burdock & Beer, the burdock has more of a medicinal taste—or maybe that was the plum and root-beer bitters. Drinks are served in exquisite crystal glasses, in keeping with the restaurant’s slogan of “rough and refined”. Equally elegant is the silver cutlery, complete with engraved initials. The “rough” part could refer to the wooden benches. Even though they have cushions on them, I had not one but two big slivers pierce through my leggings.
Most of the food comes in earthy stoneware, save for the dessert simply called Cookies!, a selection served in a little wooden box. Types vary, but we had a rosemary shortbread, a salted dark chocolate one, a crunchy hazelnut biscuit, and a cassis macaron. (I’m not a huge fan of the latter dessert fad, but this was the best macaron I’ve tasted.)
Service was good, but surprisingly, given Carlson’s fine-dining experience, not outstanding. Even though the menu’s focus is on share plates, we had to ask for serving utensils. And although the mini glass pitchers that extra coffee comes in are a nice touch, they don’t really serve the purpose. They’re delivered when you get your first cup, so by the time you’re ready for a refill the liquid has cooled off.
But those are minor gripes in what was otherwise a culinary trip well worth repeating.
Dinner for three with two cocktails, a non-alcoholic beverage, six dishes, three desserts, and three coffees came to $135 before taxes and tip.