Review: Unpretentious North Vancouver cafe serves up some of the Lower Mainland’s most adventurous dishes

Winston Restaurant in North Vancouver on June 9.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Last name: Winston

Location: 228 Lonsdale Avenue, North Vancouver

Call: 778-340-6393

Website: winston-on-lonsdale.com

Kitchen: West Coast Asian-Inspired Farm-to-Table

Prices: Dinner, shared plates, $6 to $40; five-course chef’s menu, $50 per person

Further information: Open Wednesday to Sunday, brunch from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Reservation recommended for dinner. Pick up and take out available. Small terrace.

Douglas Lee Got Me Homemade Fermented and Smoked Chili Oil: Finally, a young chef who didn’t mislabel his fiery condiment as an XO sauce.

Meatier than most crispy chili chips on the market, this mouth-watering blend of 14 peppercorns smells and tastes much like chorizo ​​with a numbing undercurrent of prickly Sichuan ash.

By day, Winston is a café that serves a wide selection of locally roasted coffees and brunch staples with intriguing twists.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The $4 ramekin of dark crimson slime comes with a discreet “not sweet at all” disclaimer on the menu. But we were so busy dunking our brioche buns while trying to identify the complex flavors that we were completely caught off guard by the hot hell that snuck up on the slow finish.

This is not a chilli oil for the weak palate. I swear it ripped the taste buds off my tongue and nearly ruined the rest of the meal.

But it’s bold, intense, totally unexpected, and makes you sit up and take notice. Much like everything else at this unassuming North Vancouver cafe, which serves up some of the Lower Mainland’s most adventurous dishes.

By day, Winston is a café that serves a wide selection of locally roasted coffees and brunch staples with intriguing twists – 99-hour braised pork cheeks alongside benny, for example, or fluffy pandan toast with vanilla butter and Ovaltine condensed milk.

The bright, airy, and minimalist space is simply decorated with plants and pendant lights hanging from the double-height ceilings, polished cement floors, wood accents, a padded window nook, and a long communal table In the center.

Open at the dawn of the pandemic, Winston is owned by Andrew Boutilier, who also operates the daytime-only Koffie Cafe in downtown Vancouver. Graceful and soft-spoken, he reminds me of famous local retired restaurateur John Bishop – a consummate professional who’s too old to be called a hipster, but keeps up with the latest trends (the restaurant’s all-natural wine list is his passion) while walking to his own pace and taking chances on a young punk in the kitchen.

Although Winston’s menus are largely plant-based, the meat dishes were the most memorable.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Executive chef Douglas Lee, 24, has local experience at many of Vancouver’s best-known restaurants, including Hapa Izakaya, Joeys, Savio Volpe, L’Abattoir and Nightingale. But he probably learned the most while interning at several super-influential restaurants in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Kyoto — which he asked not to identify because he was working illegally.

He was a complete unknown before Winston, but has a reputation as a star. This includes having enough self-awareness to make his unfiltered Instagram account private, which he recently did.

Mr. Lee draws heavily from his Asian heritage (a mix of many cultures, he explained over the phone, but mostly Cantonese), but his cuisine cannot be pigeonholed. And while his menus are largely plant-based, his meat dishes were the most memorable.

He’s obviously having a lot of fun with the a la carte dinner menu, for which the portions are huge and the flavors are crazy.

Certain items on the menu, like the Billionaire’s Cabbage, with a charred steak-like wedge served over a meaty “animal” stew and a thick layer of shredded truffled white cheddar, are a hit.

Others, like the fatty turnip baconator, with its bitter aftertaste, oily residue and “shiny” orange cheddar, not so much. This last dish looked like a junk food version of the first and could probably be eliminated.

BBQ lion’s mane mushrooms were rehydrated and sautéed to order in buttery Chinese master oil.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

But the BBQ lion’s mane mushrooms, rehydrated and sautéed to order in a buttery Chinese master’s oil (fortified and enriched over time, like a master’s broth, made with shallots and fried onions) were absolutely delicious. The sweet flavors were anchored with cumin and brightened up with fresh dill. The spongy texture of the mushrooms was balanced with the al dente teethiness of the browned carrots. And the presentation, topped with a plate-sized, cracker-like cap of puffed rice, was an elegant mushroom-themed game. To me, it tasted like mapo tofu through the lens of a French chef.

Mr. Lee’s dry aged half chicken was the piece de resistance. Mr. Lee’s variation on a Peking duck is brined, cold smoked and dried in the fridge for at least four days to safely add a light hit of umami funk. I assumed he cooked it in a Rational oven because the dark mahogany skin had such a crispy crunch, but I was shocked to find that it was actually roasted painstakingly in a pan because that his oven was flashing.

If you are going to try this restaurant, I highly recommend the dinner roulette tasting menu which changes weekly. The dishes, mostly adapted from the à la carte menu, are more refined. And at $50 for five courses, it’s one of the best deals in town.

Wishbone Kohlrabi Hummus has a satisfying mouthfeel.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Ours featured quick-marinated kohlrabi, well-selected so it wasn’t runny, on a garlicky hummus with crispy chickpeas for a more satisfying mouthfeel; smoked eggplant softened to a silky smoothness over a complex parsley remoulade; blistered shishito peppers in a creamy horseradish sauce with red sesame, salted nori and fresh herb oils; and a variation on Billionaire’s Cabbage, which was more gently steamed, served with a sesame-ginger vinaigrette and finished with homemade barrel-aged soy.

By the time the last course arrived I was very impressed with the effort, creativity and finesse of each dish, but my palate was fatigued by an overabundance of sesame – more coincidence than design, says M .Lee. And I had a craving for meat.

Mr. Lee delivered and ended the evening on a high note with a sensationally tender, massively portioned beef shank ssam that had been brined, aged, slow cooked and roasted to order, with crispy radicchio leaves for garnish. wrapper and a medley of savory pickles and smoky mustard.

The beef shank ssam was incredibly tender and massively proportioned.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

All of this was accompanied by exceptionally warm service and a flight of elegant natural wines which was a total steal for $25.

Winston would be at home on Main Street. But what a nice surprise it is to find it ready to go in the more generally quiet surroundings of North Vancouver. Mr. Lee is a chef to watch. My only concern is that he works so hard that he might burn out before the slow but sure migration of hipsters through Burrard Inlet catches up with him.

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About Walter Bartholomew

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