There’s a fresh contender for the city’s best new restaurant of 2015.
It’s called Mission, it’s in Kitsilano, and here’s what you need to do: make a reservation, choose the tasting menu instead of ordering à la carte, select six courses rather than four, and be prepared to be blown away.
I’m not sure how chef Curtis Luk got any sleep in the lead-up to the recent opening of the 60-seat spot, located in the former August Jack space, or how the servers manage to describe everything without having to glance at cheat sheets. Every item is an extremely complex culinary undertaking.
But dishes don’t come across as fussy. Rather, they involve gutsy yet successful combinations of ingredients and textures that will leave food lovers feeling as if they’ve reached nirvana. Meanwhile, those who might feel lost looking at words like brassicas and pipérade on a menu need not be intimidated: the place has a warm vibe, and those aforementioned personable servers share their knowledge with a sense of fun, not superiority.
Luk, who has partnered with general manager Chase MacLeod (formerly of Fable), discovered his passion and talent for cooking while studying computer science in his native Markham, Ontario. After working in established restaurants in Toronto and Lake Louise, he competed in Season 2 of Top Chef Canada, during which he met Fable chef Trevor Bird. That connection brought him west, with Luk joining Bird at Fable before going on to prove his chops at the Parker and Bambudda. At Mission, he exceeds all expectations.
“My mission is to sort of carry the torch in terms of what a lot of chefs in the city are starting to do or have already done in terms of utilizing the best of the season we have to offer, but to do it in a slightly different way, in a way that’s not as common,” Luk says in a phone interview following an undisclosed visit. “It’s about a true nose-to-tail concept, or the root to tip, in terms of utilizing our produce and our animals in the most complete way possible. The broad stroke of the restaurant is featuring these ingredients and showcasing them in the best light while providing an experience that’s comfortable and not too formal.”
Butchering its own meat and foraging for its own wild mushrooms, the restaurant team also has plans to make its own cheese. (For now, Mission offers products from Agassiz’s Farm House Natural Cheeses.)
As an example of just how much effort goes into a dish, consider the English pea and turnip tart with a nasturtium vinaigrette. It’s inverted, with the sweet, bright-green peas on the bottom, roasted turnips in the middle, and a crisp pumpkin-and-flaxseed cracker on top. With it is a thumbnail-sized dollop of a dense, earthy condiment consisting of no fewer than 13 ingredients, including nori, mushrooms, birch syrup, burnt garlic, and wild rice. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. The dish is a knockout.
But then, so are others. A zucchini flower is stuffed with pork, eggplant, puffed rice, a hint of chili, and seasonal greens such as chard and wild amaranth, then lightly fried in an egg-white coating. Vivid-green fava-bean hummus is a delightful twist on the predictable dip, accompanied by mini beignets, red beets, peas, carrots, parsley, tomatoes, and shaved fennel. Duck, which is simply pan-seared, then finished in the oven and served atop an anchovy paste with roasting jus, is deeply flavourful. Kohlrabi “noodles” adorn tasty cauliflower porridge with roasted broccoli and wheat berries.
Just as much thought and preparation go into the cocktails, created by bar manager Justin Darnes. Take the Under Milk Wood, which consists of ginger-infused Tempo Renovo dry gin (made in Delta by G&W Distilling with B.C. wheat); the juice of caramelized lemon; and cordial made of fir, nettle, and meadow grass foraged in Darnes’s own back-yard garden. The glass is misted with Amaro Ramazzotti and finished with a truffle-salt rim. (The drink’s name comes from a Dylan Thomas play; the entire cocktail list is literary-themed.)
So you’ve got exceptional food and drink—what more could you want? Value. The six-course tasting menu (vegetarian and non-vegetarian) costs $65 per person, while the four-course is $45. (Compare that to the six-course tasting menu that goes for $110 at the recently opened Bauhaus Restaurant, and I know which is at the top of my list.) Wine pairings are available for an additional $45 or $30, while à la carte dishes max out at $17.
Luk may not have said as much himself, but the restaurant’s goal may also be to raise the bar on quality and value in the Vancouver restaurant scene. Mission accomplished.