- Location: 39 Smithe St., Vancouver, B.C.
- Phone: 778-370-8600
- Website: parqvancouver.com
- Cuisine: Steakhouse and seafood
- Price: Dinner appetizers, $13 to $21; surf and turf, $22 to $55; steaks, $26 to $160
- Additional info: Open Sun. to Thurs., 5 pm to 10:30 pm; Fri. to Sat.; 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Sun. brunch, 10:30 am to 2:30 pm. Reservations recommended.
- Rating system: Casual dining
Victor, the flagship restaurant in Parq Vancouver, is primarily a steakhouse. But it also specializes in “a wide array of Pacific Northwest seafood.” One assumes this showcasing of regional ingredients is an overture to the good citizens of Vancouver, many of whom were not at all pleased about having a big Las Vegas-owned casino plunked on a prime parcel of downtown real estate.
“First and foremost, I want to make sure it resonates with locals,” Parq’s restaurant developer Elizabeth Blau said before opening the complex’s eight food and beverage outlets. “I want to make sure it’s not just some casino place for cruise ships.”
So there we were, soaking up the sunshine on the lushly landscaped sixth-floor rooftop patio, happily devouring a tall and stately Dungeness crab cake. It was an excellent crab cake – all sweet meat, no filler – encased in golden crust.
Along came executive chef Kim Canteenwalla, Ms. Blau’s husband and business partner, with a complimentary order of togarashi-spiced bluefin tuna. It was served on a sizzling-hot Himalayan salt block with a small bottle of ponzu sauce that is squeezed overtop for razzle-dazzle smoke effect.
Let’s forget for a moment the pointlessness of putting such an expensive piece of endangered fish – one that has already been quickly seared and sliced – on a hot rock in the hands of a guest, where it can very easily be overcooked. What a waste.
Even more mind-boggling was the bluefin’s menu description, highlighted with an Ocean Wise logo as a sustainable seafood choice. Really? In what alternate universe?
I wasn’t the first person to report the logo’s misuse to the Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Wise program – which does not recommend any variety of bluefin tuna.
The misstep underlines that Blau & Associates just doesn’t get Vancouver. After five years of research, eight restaurants and nine months of operation (Victor was the last to open, in late December), they still don’t seem to understand that Vancouver diners care passionately about the health of the ocean, will almost always choose local ingredients first and drink more wine from B.C. than any other region.
Either they don’t understand or, more likely, they don’t care. Victor is not a local restaurant. It’s a big, brassy Vegas-style steakhouse and seafood house built for tourists that specializes in showmanship and excess. And it does that style of dining well enough – very well at times – but let’s be frank.
Victor isn’t ostentatious by outward appearances. The tasteful design – honey wood, sunlight-dappled sheers, midcentury modern chairs and pops of jade-green leather in sharply rounded booths – is the most restrained aspect of this 270-seat restaurant.
Its flamboyant personality shows better on the plate: in voluptuously gooey mac ‘n’ cheese waffles; fat stacks of onion rings thickly coated in crushed pretzels (more groan than moan inducing); and crème brûlée doughnuts (spelled “donut”) crowned with a gravity defying, gold-flecked cloud of maple-flavoured cotton candy.
Many dishes seem unnecessarily tarted up. Fresh uni doesn’t need toasted brioche and kaffir-lime butter to mask its naturally sweet, briny flavour. The only logical reason for serving caviar with diced cornichons instead of the usual capers (never a good garnish idea in the first place) is to blunt the taste of caviar.
Even the 13-year-old I dined with one night turned up her nose at the crackling-coated crème brûlée donuts – “I don’t want to break my teeth!” – in favour of the monstrously large, but less Instagram-appealing and subtly delicious vanilla sponge and coconut custard cake.
At least they don’t mess up the steaks too much. The menu offers a wide selection of reasonably priced Angus Reserve and USDA Prime, in cuts ranging from a modest, 10-ounce bistro filet ($26) to the show-stopping 50-ounce tomahawk ($160). They’re charred on an infrared broiler that reaches 1,200 F to develop an evenly distributed crust and thickly ringed sear.
For high rollers, the menu also offers A-5 Japanese wagyu striploin, at $21 an ounce. It’s offered in six- and eight-ounce portions. Seriously. A-5 is so fatty it’s more or less beef butter. Who would want to eat that much? We made a special request for a two-ounce steak and it was enough for three people to gorge on.
My South American friend would be very upset if I didn’t mention the chimichurri, which was actually a bell-pepper salsa criolla. Chef Valerio Pescetelli has lived in Peru. He probably knows the difference.
The salsa might be nitpicking, but it is truly shocking to find a high-end sushi bar in Vancouver that serves farmed Atlantic salmon. Chef Hyunki Shin says he prefers the mild flavour. And he was actually using farmed Australian Chinook before switching to a locally farmed product. It’s too bad because his aburi salmon – thickly cut and barely seared, with a balanced mustard-miso dressing – is actually very good.
The salmon would likely pair nicely with Lock & Worth merlot. It’s a lovely wine, but very light and not an obvious choice for steak. Unfortunately, it’s the only B.C. red by the glass on the regular list. If you want something heavier, you’ll have to splurge for CheckMate End Game ($34 a glass) or Mission Hill Oculus ($60) from the enomatic-preserved selection.
“British Columbia has a hard time making red wine,” the server said, explaining the paucity of local offerings. Is that so? Wow.
“To the Victor belongs the spoils,” reads the cover of the menu. So why does it feel like this restaurant can’t even be bothered to plunder the local booty?