Location: 2297 East Hastings St., Vancouver
Cuisine: West Coast
Prices: Shared plates, $7 to $27
Additional Info: Dinner, Tues. to Sun., 5 p.m. - midnight; brunch, Sat. and Sun, 10:30 - 2:30 pm. Reservations accepted.
Rating System: Casual dining
Have you ever experienced the disappointment of dating someone who should be a perfect match and yet, you just don’t feel the spark?
Dachi is my restaurant equivalent of Mr. Meh: really nice (such warm, chatty service), with promising hints of quirkiness (cocktails named after film characters from the nineties!) and a shared passion for seasonal, sustainable farm-to-table cooking. But by the end of the second visit, I was so bored - and slightly annoyed – I don’t imagine there will ever be a third.
Now, the worst thing you can do on a first date is make comparisons to an ex or anyone else. And I certainly didn’t go to Dachi looking for the rustic Italian pizza and pasta that used to be served by Campagnolo Roma in this same 40-seat spot tucked behind a corner parking lot in Hastings-Sunrise.
Unfortunately, for Dachi, many people do, including two tables that popped in – and promptly popped out - while I was there on a quiet Sunday night. It’s hard to follow in the footsteps of a Mr. Popular.
While loath to make comparisons, I did make a wrong assumption. It could have been the name (Dachi means “pal” in Japanese). Or the fact that two of the owners, Stephen Whiteside and Miki Ellis, hail from Aburi Restaurants Canada (Miku, Minami, Gyoza Bar, et al). Maybe it was the abundance of sake bottles on the restaurant’s early Instagram feed. Or the minimalist decor in elegant shades of cream and grey with moody backlighting.
Whatever the reason, I thought I was going to a Japanese restaurant.
“We get that a lot,” Mr. Whiteside chuckled as I perused a compact, 12-plate comfort menu, which ran the gamut from buttermilk biscuits and country-fried steelhead to toasted-seed perogies and braised beef chuck flat.
Once I had established this was an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type of restaurant, there was much to admire about its youthful exuberance.
The wine list is a lovingly curated, frequently changing collection of low-intervention cult labels – think Bella Wines (Naramata), Francesco Cirelli (Abruzzo), Christian Binner (Alsace).
The cocktails are fun. I had a nice green chartreuse and mezcal sour, well balanced with spiced cherry cordial, though it would have been much better if all the chunky ice and lime pulp had been strained out.
The sake is a tougher hand-sell with a non-Japanese menu. But I do have faith that Mr. Whiteside, an Irish immigrant with the gift of the gab, can do it.
Mr. Whiteside probably could have kept talking all night. But after only three dishes, it felt like chef Tyson Vityechuk (the former senior sous chef at Coquille) had nothing left to say.
Yarrow Meadows duck confit croquettes was a decent opener with its crispy crumb and tender filling. The shredded confit had been deeply seasoned with onion and warm spices. Though the garnish looked simple, a golden-raisin purée was rich with butter and dense with smoke. House-pickled celery balanced the sweetness with wallops of wine-vinegar tang and raw-chili heat.
But then came the country-fried steelhead, which tasted awfully similar in texture and composition – it was another battered protein with rustic crispness and moist filling, accompanied by tangy red onion, crunchy salt-cured beets and extremely spicy horseradish gribiche on the side.
Neither dish had much plate appeal, though the plain looks were deceiving when the spice kicked in.
Seared Pacific octopus was a busier dish. The tenderized bites were roughly chopped and wreathed around the plate over heaps of black kale and juicy apple. But much like the duck and steelhead, it had the same through line of cream (chorizo aioli), crunch (cheddar crumb) and extreme spice (chili oil drizzled over top).
It was all getting a little monotonous. And if it weren’t for the pink flamingo wallpaper in the bathroom, I might not have given them a second chance. Like a guy who wears crazy socks under his khakis, the wallpaper made me think that maybe Dachi has a wild side that had yet to be revealed.
Mind you, I wasn’t in any hurry and didn’t go back for another two months. Perhaps Mr. Whiteside sensed my reticence. He was a lot less chatty this time.
By early spring, the menu had gained a few small Japanese components, including a sprinkling of ikura on a smoked trout salad heaped high with assorted greens slathered in thick buttermilk dressing.
While I do love spice, I was somewhat relieved that the salad didn’t deliver any unexpected punches.
Nor did the pan-seared ling cod with its long strips of radish and carrot in sweet-and-sour broth. It was a very soupy dish. And it would have made more sense to serve the golden, cheesy buttermilk biscuits with the ling cod rather than the salad.
Then again, nothing about the service made sense that night. I couldn’t understand why they kept clearing our eating plates and replacing them with clean ones – yet left the dirty cutlery. Three times we were asked if they could clear our glasses. Three times, the glasses were still a third-full.
These little annoyances would have been a lot less irritating if the food was more interesting. But by the time we were halfway through dessert – a soft-on-soft blob of fudgy ganache, white-chocolate mousse and crème fraiche – I was done.
Dachi has many redeeming qualities and I’m sure it will make many people very happy. But it just rubbed me the wrong way too many times.