- Name: The Stable House Bistro
- Location: 1520 W. 13th Ave., Vancouver
- Phone: 604-736-1520
- Website: thestablehouse.ca
- Cuisine: Wine bar, casual bistro
- Prices: Charcuterie boards, $10 to $30; small plates, $7 to $14, medium and mains, $16 to $29
- Additional information: Open daily until 10 p.m. (opens noon most days, 11 a.m. on weekends, 3 p.m. on Monday); no reservations; takeout charcuterie (exploretock.com); patio weather dependent.
Vancouver’s temporary patio program has been a sensational success – and it’s even more exciting now that the province has agreed to make these pandemic pop-ups permanent.
There are hundreds in the city, thousands across the province and I love them all. Give me a curb, a bench, a cold drink and I’m there.
But let’s be honest. Not all new patios are created equal.
South Granville’s Stable House Bistro has one of the best.
This relaxed neighbourhood wine bar has the good fortune to be on one of the city’s pilot-project Slow Streets, adjacent to a public pop-up plaza and closed off to cars.
It’s also blessed with great bones, including cool green shade from a canopy of old trees that line the sidewalk.
Five years ago, managing partner Peter McGee initiated a neighbourhood mural program with the South Granville Business Improvement Association.
So now the new street patio is embellished with (and customers can better appreciate) a dreamy, equestrian-inspired piece by local art star Ola Volo, which swirls across the restaurant’s exterior wall and Williams-Sonoma next door.
And that’s just the periphery.
Inside the lattice-wood fence, general manager Kim Busch has gone above and beyond to make this cozy patio feel like a private deck.
The fold-up tables are widely spaced and mixed with lounge-style seating areas. Outdoor carpets cover the pavement. Plants are potted in wicker. There are woven-wire chairs in bright pops of turquoise, rattan ottomans, low-slung coffee tables and twinkly lights.
The furniture comes from HomeSense. Ms. Busch had to replace it all this year after last summer’s wear-and-tear. And it has to be hauled in and out every day.
But it absolutely transforms a pleasant street into a little slice of homey paradise.
The Stable House Bistro is like The Little Engine That Could. It has been quietly huffing and puffing since the start of the pandemic with a walk-up window that sold wine, provisions and take-out meals, produce packs from UBC Farm and an absolutely hilarious series of Instagram videos starring former sommelier Matt Landry (a Second City Improv Lab alumnus), in costume, giving wacky wine tutorials to anyone who bought a restaurant gift certificate and had pressing questions (What wine pairs best with Spam?) to ask.
The bistro has been around for ages. Well, since 2013. And even though I have many friends who consider it their favourite neighbourhood watering hole, it took a pandemic – and a search for standout patios – to draw me in.
In the beginning, the kitchen didn’t offer much worth reviewing. The charcuterie was just there to soak up the wine. And the wine selection didn’t get interesting until Mr. Landry, recently crowned the CAPS 2019 BC Sommelier of the Year, came aboard.
But under current chef Carmen Holtby, the menu has evolved, expanded and become quite intriguing.
The meat and cheese boards are still your best bet. They’re spread with honeyed seeds, vibrant pickles and sliced apples.
House-made duck pastrami, salt-cod brandade and marinated labneh upgrade the standard selection of French cheese and Italian salami.
The boards can be supplemented with small plates that include addictively spiced nuts, warm olives, weekly changing beignets and farm-fresh specials such as charred snap peas with creamy ricotta and zesty mint oil.
Large plates, frequently changing, are beautifully composed. Seared sablefish was served with wilted swiss chard, smoked beurre blanc and a neat block of potato pave punched up with layers of kelp.
That said, the mains could be tighter. My sablefish was undercooked and firm in the centre. Pork ribs were crusted in crunchy cumin seed shells that would have been less scratchy in the throat had they been more finely ground.
But I would absolutely go back for small plates – and the wine.
This is honestly one of the most dynamic, underrated wine lists in town. By the glass, you’ll find all sorts of idiosyncratic, small-batch projects (A Black Swan in Tangoland Ancestrale Method Chardonnay) alongside obscure flights (from the Spanish Canary Islands!) and more approachable chardonnays and syrah.
The reserve wine list – written by Mr. Landry, who is now an educator for the Wine Scholar Guild and a consultant to the restaurant – is laugh-out-loud funny.
I wish I had the pleasure of visiting when he was working on the floor. But he left the restaurant – inside and out – in excellent hands.
The Stable House Bistro doesn’t just have a great patio. It’s a little gem.
Best New Pop-Up Patios
Vancouver is thronging with hundreds of new patios. To celebrate, Vancouver’s Business Improvement Areas recently launched an Instagram search engine – @patiovancouver. Here are some of the standouts that go above and beyond a fenced-in stretch of concrete.
More than just a patio, this expansive Chinatown pivot is a whole new bar with mini-putt, live music, graffiti murals, wooden decks, fire pits, dim-sum delivery and tropical slushies.
The surf-themed street patio of Say Mercy! has been a community haven for Fraserhood families. The adjacent public plaza is now officially turning into a toy-equipped kids zone with new book and garden-seed libraries, murals and games coming soon.
Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar
Vancouver’s premier seafood restaurant has seamlessly slid its first-class service and award-winning tasting menus onto an elegant oasis under a high-roofed canopy in the Sutton Place Hotel driveway. Closing Aug. 1, after which only the permanent patio will be available.
Commercial Drive’s sweetest bakery and Italian café has transformed its sidewalk and street-side patio into a jaunty slice of Europe with striped umbrellas, paned-glass windows and potted plants. Daytime hours only.
Yuwa Japanese Cuisine
Enjoy sublime sushi and rare sakes in a chic Kerrisdale parking lot appointed with white tablecloths, red umbrellas, verdant shrubbery and heaters.
The downtown courtyard, always a hidden gem, has recently been extended down a back alley and beautifully composed with posh seating, polished landscaping and a live DJ during happy hour.
Fairmont Pacific Rim
Newly revitalized through a partnership with Oakridge Park, the swish hotel’s outdoor plaza offers casual food-truck fare, live music and cool cocktails on an expanse of terraced greenery inspired by South Asian rice paddies.
Vancouver’s largest patio district is in full swing with nearly 40 outdoor restaurant spaces, variously serenaded by a free pop-up music series set in multiple locations on Thursday nights.
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