Every week seems to bring a new restaurant in Vancouver, and so-called foodies can be a fickle bunch, falling in love with one right after another. I’m currently head over heels for Homer St. Cafe and Bar.
There’s the candy apple–red rotisserie, the Maldon sea salt–sprinkled chocolate pudding, and the broccoli—yes, the broccoli—to gush about. But let’s start with the décor.
Formerly home to the Homer Cafe, the digs that now occupy ground floors of both the historic Homer Building and the new Beasley condominium tower have been revamped to stellar effect by Craig Stanghetta (the design guru behind Bao Bai Chinese Brasserie and Meat & Bread), design firm Edison & Sprinkles, and antiques dealer Scott Landon. Split into a few separate dining spaces, the restaurant features white subway tiles on some walls, a vertical row of gargoyles on another, and exposed brick painted white on others. There’s a private room that’s surrounded by restored wood-framed windows and decorated with French farmhouse-style paintings of roosters (a space apparently known as “the cockpit”). There’s a huge portrait of Winston Churchill that used to hang at the Ritz-Carlton in Montreal. There are stunningly elaborate floor tiles in black, ivory, and shale. The place is gorgeous.
That aforementioned red rotisserie is a showpiece of the open kitchen. It’s by Rotisol, a brand that’s been made by the same family since 1954 in France. The Grandes Flammes Millennium is a serious piece of equipment that allows the chicken to cook evenly, the juices remaining sealed in while the fat drips off below. Here, the drippings fall onto a bed of peewee potatoes, which are tossed with roasted lemon.
The day before they go on the spit to cook for about 65 minutes, the birds—which the restaurant sources from Abbotsford’s Rossdown Farms and Farmcrest Foods in Salmon Arm—are soaked in brine, explains executive chef Marc-André Choquette in a follow-up phone call. (Chef “MAC”, whose résumé includes eight years as executive chef at Lumière, splits his time between Homer St. Cafe and its sister restaurant, Tableau Bar Bistro, sharing Homer duties with chef Tret Jordan, formerly of Tableau, Raincity Grill, and Bacchus, among other spots.) What you get is ultra-juicy, ultra-flavourful poultry that’s seasoned with fresh sage, thyme, rosemary, and other herbs that grow in boxes in the restaurant’s rooftop garden.
“The rotisserie is a little bit like a piano,” Choquette says. “You have to learn to work with it and play with it and adjust it.”
Served by the quarter, half, or whole ($18, $26, or $32 respectively) with those divine peewee potatoes as well as jus and coleslaw, chicken is a staple here, but there’s also a rotating selection of roasted mains featuring lamb, pork, beef, or fish. A must-have side dish is the broccoli bagna càuda. The term means “hot bath”, and the cruciferous veggie is slightly steamed, tossed in a cream-based sauce made with anchovies, onion, and garlic, and topped with Parmesan cheese. I swear, school kids would take this as a recess snack.
The menu also offers design-your-own cheese and charcuterie plates, as well as several starters and a handful of nonrotisserie mains. The citrus-baked steelhead trout, in brown rice and encircled with a yogurt-dill sauce, is tender and tasty.
For dessert, the creamy dark-chocolate pudding is topped with caramelized honeycomb, Maldon sea salt, cocoa nibs, and a little bit of whipped cream. What else do you need to know?
The wine list offers ever-changing rare finds, and the house cocktails make for celebratory starters. I loved An Apple a Day, with green-apple liqueur, chartreuse, rum, and lime and apple juices.
So what’s not to like about Homer St. Cafe? Well, vegetarians won’t be thrilled, unless the menu, which Choquette says will change regularly, begins to offer more meatless and fishless dishes. The albacore-tuna starter, in which some of the fish is seared and some is made into a bland paste, underwhelmed, the highlight of the dish being the Christmassy veggie antipasto. The nonalcoholic drinks are unexciting. And on very busy nights, you might find yourself squished—three of you seated at a table for two, for example.
But no new love interest is perfect; Homer St. Cafe comes awfully close.
Dinner for two with a cocktail, a glass of wine, and an Americano each came to $142 before tax and tip. I took home our not-quite-finished half chicken and made a delicious stock with it. On a previous visit, I shared a whole chicken, a couple of sides, and a dessert with two friends, which made for a light and lovely meal.