One thing's for certain: if you're planning to open a restaurant in the West End in the summer, you have to be prepared for the crowds.
Like a seasonal resort, the sidewalks fill up with beachgoers on the weekend. And then there are the special events. The Celebration of Light, the Vancouver Pride festivities, and more attract ravenous masses that gobble up everything in their path.
A new seafood restaurant decided to open up smack dab in the thick of it all.
Luckily, owner Michael Gayman has experienced the summer crowds with his other establishment, the Blind Sparrow at the other end of Denman Street near the Robson intersection.
He opened his new 3,500-square-feet Hook Seabar on July 13 at 1210 Denman Street where Milestones English Bay presided for 27 years. Replacing the former dusky décor, the new nautical-themed room features a whale mural painted by artist Paul Morstad, exposed concrete floors, and welcomes in more natural light. With 120 seats inside and 48 more on the patio, it certainly can them pack in.
The idea of opening a seafood restaurant had been percolating in his brain for some time.
"The last couple of years, people have just been constantly coming through and asking where they should go for seafood and I had a really hard time recommending somewhere," he said in a chat at his new premises.
While he was aware of high-end seafood places and older establishments with landmark status, he wanted to create something that fit in between. When the former Milestones location became available, right across from English Bay, he said he jumped at the opportunity, knowing that such a prime location is hard to come by.
His chef Kayla Dhaliwall, who had previously given the Blind Sparrow's menu a makeover, told the Georgia Straight that she sought to cover other culinary bases beyond oceangoing fare.
"Given the location and the size of the restaurant, we certainly didn't want to alienate anybody," she said. "We also know that we have a mixed demographic. We do quite well with the locals, obviously, but we do have some tourists and some families and some older couples and that sort of thing, so we definitely wanted to make sure that we had a wide range of options as well as being able to work with different meats, fish, and lamb."
That's good news, as there's always one person in a group who wants to opt for something a little different. The menu covers appetizers, a raw bar, sandwiches, salads, and surf 'n' turf.
She added that they'll be revising about one-third of menu as seasons change. While we're in the midst of halibut season right now, she said they'll switch things up by the time sockeye season ends.
The raw bar serves poke ($16), tuna tartare ($17) sashimi, nigiri, five varieties of oysters, and sushi rolls.
Dhaliwall said she worked with sushi chef Sanghoon Park by taking a West Coast–inspired approach to sushi. That resulted in the creation of rolls such as scallop ceviche and lobster ($16) and—one of the most popular choices—the wagyu beef and crab roll ($18).
Elsewhere on the menu, there are also classic faves like fish 'n' chips ($22), with beer-battered ling cod, tarragon remoulade, and pickled vegetable slaw; fish tacos with papaya slaw ($16); and, yes, there are hamburgers, with a bacon weave, applewood cheddar, and Kennebec fries ($19)—plus, reflecting their marine-orientation, you can add soft-shell crab for $6. Likewise, the BLT ($18) comes with soft-shell crab, poached prawn, bacon, avocado, and, of course, lettuce and tomato.
Other items vary from fries with eyes ($15)—whole smelts, prawns, and calamari with harissa cream—to a burrata and beet salad ($14), with watercress, hazelnuts, stone fruit, and pomegranate.
A topseller thus far, Gayman said, has been the lobster guacamole with spicy crema and corn chips ($16).
Some of the dishes he recommends are the whole branzino with harissa spice, yogurt, salsa verde, and forbidden black rice ($35); and the barbecue rack of lamb with cola brine, smoked potato salad, and jalapeño crema ($32). Other entrées include pan-seared halibut with chili sauce, gai lan, and long beans ($35) and sockeye salmon ($28) with beet crème fraiche, crispy potatoes, and herb salad.
The wine list includes B.C. bottles within its international mix and there's a beach-influenced cocktail list with an emphasis on rum and tequila (Gayman calls the list "borderline tiki"). He adds that he'll be introducing "old-school stuff" like Margarita Mondays, daily features like fish tacos and beer night, and happy hour from Monday to Friday with buck-a-shuck and other discounted food and beverage items.
As a number of chain restaurants have been vacating the area, Gayman feels that as an independent restaurateur, he has an edge. Nonetheless, he hopes he can last as long as the location's predecessor. For the time being though, he'll have his hands full as he sets upon his first season facing the relentless throngs of summer-loving beachgoers.