A love of all things local has been one of the greatest trends to take root in the city’s restaurant industry over the last decade—but a new spot in Yaletown is doing things a little differently. While showcasing the best that B.C. has to offer, WildTale Coastal Grill celebrates the coastal culinary scene as a whole, serving up everything from Alaskan king crab legs to Prince Edward Island mussels to Nova Scotia scallops to arctic char from the Northwest Territories. It all makes for the kind of seafood feast your Prairie relatives would kill for.
In the former home of Glowbal Grill and Satay Bar, WildTale is brought to you by John Crook and Erik Heck, the duo behind the Flying Pig. Both used to work at Glowbal Grill and held many other positions in kitchens in Vancouver and elsewhere before opening their first venture’s three locations. While the Flying Pig has something for everyone, WildTale focuses almost exclusively on the stuff of the sea.
“The more I travel and the more Erik travels to places like Hawaii and San Francisco, we’re always trying unique and different flavours,” Crook says in a phone call following the Straight’s undisclosed dinner visit. “My wife is from P.E.I., and when we go there and go out for oysters, it’s a completely different experience [than in B.C.]. The flavour profile is completely different.
“We wanted to explore different areas, and as chefs you want to try different things and be able to cook unique flavours,” adds Crook, noting he and Heck are both passionate about fishing themselves. “Food is also something that can transport you, too. In P.E.I., we love going to Raspberry Point for great-tasting oysters with a glass of Chablis. Food can bring back so many memories.”
The selection at WildTale is exciting indeed, from raw B.C. oysters to East Coast clams.
Several items got raves from us four, including the Old Bay blackened snapper. Its name refers to the classic Chesapeake Bay seasoning, a blend of 18 herbs and spices including dry mustard and paprika. Served atop an exquisite rock-prawn risotto with a creole butter sauce as well as beets and kale, this one’s a memorable item for sure.
Ahi tuna poke, a staple in Hawaii, deftly evoked Aloha Land’s perfect days and golden sunsets, the rare tuna punched up with avocado, jalapeño, and spiced wontons.
While the menu won’t leave fish fans wanting, not every dish is worth diving in for.
Lobster shows up in a side dish of poutine that’s a partner to steak. The latter is your choice of a five-ounce tenderloin or a 10-ounce AAA rib-eye. Beautiful and bright pink on the inside, as it should be when cooked medium-rare, the meat is the highlight here, along with a trio of slightly firm grilled asparagus spears. Sadly, the lobster on this occasion was overdone. This meant the texture was more chewy than tender, plus its flavour was dominated by a too-garlicky sauce that the fries were soaked in. A traditional tail with a simple ramekin of melted butter, à la 1970s surf ’n’ turf, would have been a less creative but I bet more flavourful way to feature the Atlantic indulgence.
The ceviche’s ingredients change regularly, but the one on this visit, with shrimp and scallops, lost its way with too much fiery spice as a counterpoint to the bright citrus. Like a ship leaning from side to side in rough seas, the flavours here lurched from one extreme to the other.
While the spicy puttanesca penne that came with the pan-seared Haida Gwaii halibut was delicious, the sauce was overly oily, leaving a glistening orange slick on the plate. I liked that the chefs served up the fish with such bold flavours, though, given that it so often comes with milder accompaniments. The flaky, snow-white fillet also had a crispy Dungeness crab crust and basil beurre blanc. (Dinner mains run $21 to $35.)
There’s an oyster and raw bar, while happy hour has a long list of terrific items to linger over. Those aforementioned P.E.I. mussels come in a mini cast-iron pan with an herb-and-white-wine sauce, the kind of broth you could slurp as soup if you hadn’t mopped it all up with the freshly grilled bread. Halibut poppers are kid-friendly bites served with pickle-and-dill dipping sauce.
The bistro has a good-sized heated patio; inside, the décor is restrained, with a few exposed-brick columns, white-painted walls, wood tables, neutral carpets, and lanternlike sconces and hanging lights. It’s an ambiance that’s relaxed, not stuffy, just the way a real fisher would like it.