- Name: Bar Gobo
- Location: 237 Union St., Vancouver
- Phone: 604-423-5400
- Website: bargobo.com
- Cuisine: Wine Bar, West Coast
- Prices: Snacks, $6 to $60; Dinner for the Table (when available), $45 a person
- Additional Info: Open Tues. to Sat., 4 – 10 pm; street-side patio (weather dependent); reservations recommended (exploretock.com)
The excitement is wolfish. Indoor dining is back, the province is reopening and we’re all racing out to meet old friends on new patios that are spreading across Vancouver like wild raspberry bushes.
Before diving headlong into all things bright and shiny, I’d like to celebrate the latest addition to a family of restaurants led by executive chef Andrea Carlson that nourished my dark days of hibernation and fed me so many moments of joy.
Bar Gobo is a small, bare-boned, 14-seat wine bar that quietly sprouted in Chinatown last summer as an offshoot of the iconic Burdock & Co on Main Street (gobo is Japanese for burdock).
Owners Ms. Carlson, Kevin Bismanis and Gabriella Meyer originally intended to turn the space into a liquor-licensed expansion of their fantastic noodle bar at Harvest Community Foods, a few doors down.
The noodles got nixed when opportunity knocked: Peter Van de Reep, the CAPS 2020 BC Sommelier of the Year, came aboard as bar manager, so they instead made it a permanent home for Burdock & Co’s natural wine and disco dumpling pop-ups.
I didn’t go right away because they mainly served snacks and a circuit breaker was no time for grazing. The rare prison break was precious and reserved for feasting.
But when Bar Gobo featured a more compelling three-course prix fixe during the Dine Out festival in February, I rushed to make an online reservation.
The raw room – with its bare walls, concrete floors and a single green plant breaking up a lone row of glass-divided plywood banquettes – felt austere.
But the food, cooked singled-handedly by Neil Hillbrandt (a long-time sous chef from Burdock) in an open, sliver-sized kitchen with no hood vents, was course after course of gasp-inducing magnificence.
We had perfumed albacore tuna tartare folded with crunchy bits of peppery radish and creamy lemon juice infused with preserved bergamot rind. The dressing was so aromatic I wanted to dab it on my neck.
There were the fatty, moist duck rillettes topped with briny twigs of sea asparagus and juicy pickled rutabaga. On the side were perfectly thin and crispy house-fried potato chips and a dark-orange marmalade that exploded with sunshine and warm spice.
There was also beef bourguignon, cooked classically thick and rich, set in a foamy pool of potato espuma. And celeriac risotto topped with a crunchy walnut crumb that tingled with koji-fermented Sichuan peppercorns.
The food, designed in collaboration with Ms. Carlson, was all so gorgeously textured, fragrant and knock-your-socks-off delicious that I almost felt bad for Mr. Van de Reep and his constantly evolving selection of rare wines, which start with organic production as a bare minimum but are not beholden to strict natural-wine standards.
We had some great pairings, including a creamy yet fresh Domaine de La Pepière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, which went well with everything. And the service was excellent.
But I didn’t bow at his feet until he blew us away with a sweetly effervescent J.J. Prum Gracher Himmelreich riesling that was revelatory on its own and then erupted into the herbaceous high heavens with desserts – thyme-syrup drizzled strawberry meringue and chocolate custard spiked with bay leaf.
It’s hard to top a transcendent food-and-wine experience, but Bar Gobo kept intriguing.
The couple sitting next to us that night had just returned from the first half of a Bar Gobo with Lobe Studio Date Night Experience. And, to be honest, they looked a little dazed.
“I’m not sure what that was,” the gentleman explained. “You have to do it to understand.”
So I immediately booked a $200 package – it comes with a $60 voucher for Bar Gobo and a one-way Uber ride, which takes you from the Strathcona studio to Bar Gobo for dinner – for three weeks later.
Lobe is North America’s first immersive spatial sound studio that uses 4SOUND technology, in conjunction with vibrotranducers, for a musical experience that literally moves.
It is indeed difficult to explain this meditative sound experience quickly, so let’s just say that the floor trembled, the walls shook and in a tilt-a-whirl year when cultural outings were limited, it was a pitch-perfect alternative to dinner and a show.
After the sound experience, an Uber driver delivered us to Bar Gobo, where we snacked on icy oysters with fermented carrot vinaigrette, wobbly tofu custard drenched in sesame, maple and bonito flakes and a big pot of mussels bathed in fermented-tomato dashi with schmaltz croutons.
These are some of the snacks currently featured on the Bar Gobo menu. As much as I’d like to see Bar Gobo’s prix fixe menu return (and it might), the small plates offer a good excuse to drop in more casually when I’m picking up my weekly local produce pack from Harvest.
If you’ve never had the pleasure, it’s time to treat yourself.
The $38 Community-Supported Agriculture bags, chock full of glorious greens, knobby sunchokes, vibrant herbs, fruits, shoots and delectable little surprises such as feathery fiddleheads, have been around for several years. But sales skyrocketed during the early days of the pandemic, from 40 to 400 a week, supporting small, organic farms when they needed it most.
They outclass the average CSA as they do not require a subscription, are run year-round, are thoughtfully curated from the bounty of six to 10 farms and come with terrific recipe suggestions (because tempura isn’t always the first thing that comes to most pandemic-addled minds when presented with a bunch of garlic scapes).
These harvest bags reignited my passion for home cooking and fuelled so many delicious meals, I can’t praise them enough.
Bar Gobo’s snack menu also helps to distinguish it from Burdock & Co, which recently switched from family-style service to a five-course tasting menu, now served on a lushly renovated garden patio.
Every time I’ve been to Burdock, Ms. Carlson has introduced me to something wild and wonderful – koji (which she began fermenting long before it became trendy), wild-arctic sourdough, begonia-petal ice.
A few weeks ago, it was an exquisitely fragrant Nootka rose honey, which she served with spot prawns and grown-up chocolate s’mores, elevated by toasted vanilla marshmallow and burdock root gelato.
This honey – infused with the buds of a wild native bristly rose picked before they bloom – is the nectar of B.C. It was so good, I ordered a small bowl on the side.
And it’s a perfect example of the unique creativity that sparkles from all of the restaurants in Ms. Carlson’s orbit.