Dovetail’s Southern Cali charm scores big

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      It’s Friday afternoon and Colin Denton, co-owner of Dovetail restaurant, is on the 15th hole of a Seattle golf course. Right before his turn, he glances at his phone and grows alarmed: he’s got two missed calls from his business partners, along with a text that reads: “Call me, 911.” He calls them back, understandably fearing the worst.

      But that fear turns to joy as his co-owners—executive chef Ejner Christiansen and brand and marketing director Jenn Hang—tell him the news: their four-month-old eatery has won Best New Restaurant in the Straight’s 2024 Golden Plates Awards.

      They celebrate on the phone together. Then Christiansen and Hang, in the middle of service, discreetly toast their team in a back room. And Denton, drunk on excitement, tries to stay composed enough to finish his round. “I think I double-bogeyed the next three holes,” he recalls later, seated inside the restaurant.

      Dovetail opened in Yaletown in late November of 2023, offering Vancouverites a distinctly Californian vibe. Think: natural light, warm colours, a sumptuous bar, and a playful menu. Stop by and you quickly understand that this 150-seat establishment—designed by Jute Design & Management—is for serious dining, yet is airy enough to make people feel comfortable.

      It harkens back to the similarly carefree environment that put Denton and Christiansen in the mood to discuss opening a restaurant together in the first place. In November 2022, they were in Mexico for a friend’s wedding. On day one, they casually talked about starting something together; by day seven, Denton shares, “We were doing a tequila shot, saying, ‘We’re going to do this.’” (Fun fact: The wedding was that of Jute Design partner Megan Kirkpatrick and her now-husband, a partner at Yaletown’s Banter Room.)

      Yet unlike most plans hatched over libations, this one came to fruition. No doubt Denton and Christiansen’s previous time spent working at the ultra-professional Cactus Club benefited them as they embarked on this journey. Once back from Mexico, they met weekly to talk budgets, locations, and concepts, and eventually landed on the California theme. Taking inspiration from the City of Angels, they felt like there was a gap they could fill in the Vancouver market.

      “There are so many great fine dining restaurants where it’s a little bit more subdued,” says Denton of Vancouver’s culinary scene. “Then you have your party spots. There’s not a ton in between. That’s what I wanted to bring from LA—that fun dinner-party vibe, but not to the point of sacrificing your service.”

      Nicole Robertson

      Christiansen, who was executive chef at The Parlour before this venture, loves LA’s culinary diversity. “It’s like a melting pot,” he says. “There are Italian, Japanese, and Latin flavours. I like how well a lot of the restaurants we go to manage to blend all those things into one place without being pigeon-holed.”

      This thinking finds its way onto Dovetail’s menu, which features a range of dishes, from chicken Parm to carne asada. Amongst the mix, a few signature plates have become favourites, according to Christiansen, including the Spicy Vodka Pasta, as well as the Butter Beef Tataki. The dishes are simple, he notes, and that’s intentional.

      “I like approachability,” he explains. “I’m a big believer that more is not always more when it comes to what you’re putting on the plate. But if everything on there serves a purpose, and is well balanced, it can create a great dish.”

      The food is paired with a drink program led by beverage director Simon Riley. It features several classic cocktails that have been dashed with unique touches. The Negroni Bianco, Brown Butter Old Fashioned, and Our Paper Plane stick out. There’s also a new Patio Pounder that this author is dying to try.

      Nicole Robertson

      While they don’t have the economies of scale or massive buying power of a chain, what the folks behind Dovetail do have is nimbleness—the ability to change things on the fly, to experiment. Case in point: When Dovetail launched, instead of a traditional happy hour, they created a Martini Hour—a literal hour of martini specials. And they recently launched what they call Happy Days: daily specials available from opening until 5pm. These deals are definitely delightful, but it might also be time for this crew to start thinking bigger. Forget happy hours or happy days, and imagine what happy years could look like. If the last few months are any indication, Dovetail’s future is likely to have many of them.

      Dovetail is located at 1079 Mainland Street.