When Raincity Grill closed last fall, it was big news. The restaurant on Denman Street near Davie, which opened in 1992, had become an institution, loved by locals and known right across the country for its locavore menu. It was among the first here to embrace the farm-to-table philosophy, showcasing pure, fresh, local ingredients well before other dining establishments picked up on the trend.
Last November, Viaggio Hospitality Group bought Raincity as well as C restaurant, which had both run into financial trouble. Viaggio—which also owns Cibo Trattoria, Uva Wine & Cocktail Bar, and other restaurants, liquor stores, and hotels such as the one at the Waldorf—gave Raincity’s former space a serious make-over and hired a new team, which recently opened it as Beach Bay Café and Patio. It’s a relief to still have an independent restaurant in the heart of beautiful English Bay, which is otherwise dominated by chains. And yet while the food is very good and the space is fresh, a visit won’t blow your mind.
The room itself is quite literally a breath of fresh air, with high-top tables placed next to wide-open windows to make the most of the spectacular view. (There’s a heated patio, too.) The interior is a sea of white and ivory, from the walls to the chairs to the oversize floor tiles. Add in blond-wood tables and accents, and you’ve got a space that will feel bright even on January’s darkest days. Mirrors hung lengthwise on one wall and a mirrored façade behind the bar further expand the sense of space. At the back of the minimalist room is an enormous, sepia-toned photo of English Bay circa 1910, with beachgoers in their skirts, suits, and fancy hats.
Leading the kitchen is executive chef Scott Korzack, who, after moving to Vancouver from Ontario in 2011, worked at L’Abattoir before taking the helm at Bambudda. At the latter contemporary-Chinese spot in Gastown, he shone, coming up with inventive dishes that showcased his flair and sense of fun. Of course, Bambudda’s funky fusion menu can’t be compared to Beach Bay’s ingredient-driven dishes, but for whatever reason, Korzack is more restrained here.
The starters are more creative than the mains. A grilled-kale salad is no mere plate of leafy greens; rather, it comes with poached shrimp, a bone-marrow croquette, and piquant ravigote, an oil-and-vinegar-based dressing with an abundance of fresh, chopped herbs. Dungeness crab crèma makes the delicate Carolina golden-grain risotto even richer, while rhubarb and sorrel are sharp accompaniments for sweetbreads with grilled beets.
Seven options for mains, which range in price from $19 to $32, are currently on offer. Succulent strip loin is served with walnut-studded barley, slightly crunchy broccoli, and large bitter greens. Salmon is a standout, the Vancouver Island fillet coming with shelled mussels and the silkiest potatoes in town: they’re baked, passed through a tamis, blended with buttermilk, whipped in a whipped-cream charger, then dotted with vibrant dill oil. Black cod, aka sablefish, is a straightforward dish, the fish atop a bed of grilled cabbage, zucchini, and green tomatoes. Roasted chicken is tender-cooked but as bland as the green strawberries that come with it. More dramatic in flavour is the accompanying onion stuffed with chicken-liver mousse. The other main dishes are albacore tuna, barley stew, and a pork chop. Beach Bay Café isn’t particularly vegetarian-friendly, with scant offerings for those who eat neither meat nor fish.
A couple of sides are available, including piping-hot fingerling potatoes with a plain mayonnaise. Among the dessert selections are a pistachio cake and a lime-tequila semifreddo. The flourless chocolate cake was barely there, deconstructed into crumbs and served with a thick coffee cream and spruce-tip ice cream, the spruce-tip flavour indiscernible.
Adrian Lindner’s bar selections are solid, with an especially thoughtful array of drinks by the glass: aside from bubbles, white, and red, there’s an aromatic junmai sake by Artisan SakeMaker on Granville Island and two sherries. Lindner gets a section of the menu all to himself for “experiments” like the “9013.21”, described as the distance in kilometres between Brazil and Italy. It consists of sparkling rosé, cachaça, Peychaud’s bitters, and grapefruit. It’s an experiment that works. Less successful are the ho-hum white sangria and nonalcoholic cocktails.
It would be great if Korzack had his own dedicated space for experimentation too. He’s got the talent. It’s not that the food isn’t good here; it’s just that the whole experience isn’t “wow”. It’s early days still, so perhaps over time Beach Bay Café will take more chances and deliver a package that’s more memorable. As it stands now, if it didn’t have such a gorgeous view, would I go out of my way to stop in for dinner? Probably not.