- Straight and Marrow
- Location: 1869 Powell St., Vancouver
- Website: straightandmarrow.com
- Phone: 604-251-4813
- Prices: Small plates, $10 to $17
- Cuisine: Nose-to-tail dining
- Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
- Additional information: Reservations recommended. No takeout or patio. Strict COVID-19 safety compliance.
Straight and Marrow reminds me of the olden times.
Dark, cozy and burnished in gilded scrap metal, this new nose-to-tail restaurant in East Vancouver’s port district doesn’t offer takeout, hasn’t pivoted to a simpler menu and favours widely spaced seats over clear acrylic barriers.
The space is long and narrow so patrons seated on the far-wall banquette can comfortably chat with bar manager Chad Rivard about how he balances rendered bone marrow and beef stock with citrus and black pepper for the restaurant’s surprisingly refreshing namesake cocktail.
Yet it’s roomy enough that the eyes can wander and take in all the stunning handcrafted steampunk detailing – a giant octopus twisted up in rebar dangling over the front door, vintage pendant lights wrapped with bent-copper pipes and a feature wall covered in bronzed gears and cogs.
It’s the perfect date-night restaurant for sharing small plates of spicy frog legs on gluey grits, creamy head cheese terrine flecked with gherkins and fatty lamb sirloin charred to savoury meltiness, all beautifully plated with powders, purees, gels and unsung vegetables such as mustard greens, garlic scapes and celery hearts.
Mind you, it’s been nothing but couples since the restrictions on social gatherings came into effect in early November. So most nights, the seating capacity for 18 tops out at 12. And as a new business that launched in the middle of the pandemic and therefore isn’t eligible for government assistance, I can’t help but wonder how it’s surviving.
“We’re losing money every month and I’m definitely not paying myself,” chef-owner Chris Lam says.
The former executive sous chef at Provence Mediterranean Grill in Point Grey took a six-year hiatus from kitchens to work in property management when his son, Malcolm, was young.
Straight and Marrow wasn’t just conceived as a comeback. It was a chance to show Malcolm that a job steeped in passion is more important than money. It was also an opportunity to champion a sustainable dining philosophy while paying homage to his Cantonese heritage.
“We don’t just eat every part of the animal, we like it,” he says.
Mr. Lam doesn’t treat his off-cuts and unusual proteins as weird. This isn’t stunt eating as popularized by bro-chefs in the early aughts. These are finely crafted dishes made approachable by tight French technique, subtle Asian accents and no-waste creativity.
Tongue in cheek, for example, uses wagyu tongue, which is more marbled and tender than the regular beef variety. Mr. Lam simmers the fleshy organ for six hours to loosen up the tough outer layer for removal, cuts it into thin slices and seared to a light crisp. The tongue is draped over a rich and deeply wine-flavoured root vegetable “risotto,” each piece brunoised to precision, folded with softly braised beef cheek.
For Korean fried chicken oysters, Mr. Lam purchases the juicy, dark-meat pearls tucked on either side of the bird’s back bone from a local poultry processing plant. The crispy morsels are battered in potato and tapioca starch, glazed with sweet soy-garlic butter, dusted in kimchi powder and served with torched rice cubes on a plate smeared with squid-ink gochujang.
Although rabbit isn’t all that unusual, it’s definitely not appreciated or widely available in Vancouver. Mr. Lam confits his in duck fat and places it on a pillowy gnocchi pedestal sprinkled with cured egg yolk (waste from the bar), meaty lardons, crunchy Brussels sprouts and a sumptuous brown-butter butternut-squash puree.
Although delicious, this isn’t the type of food that travels well. “I don’t want someone’s first experience with sweetbreads to be soggy,” Mr. Lam explains.
I admire his integrity. But wouldn’t an awesome crispy pig-ear sandwich or pig-heart Valentine’s Day meal boost the bottom line?
As he explains, there are also practical and conscientious reasons he doesn’t do takeout.
First, he doesn’t have anywhere to store the extra food. Bistro Wagon Rouge, which used to occupy the space, kept all of its dry and frozen goods next door. His lease doesn’t include the extra room.
More important, his grandfather died from COVID-19 last summer. He takes the health risks very seriously. His staff is a skeleton crew, all close friends that he’s known for at least 10 years.
“I care about them,” he says. “We’re all working 60 hours a week as it is. I don’t want to put them at risk by bringing in a part-timer.”
He could put up plexiglass to squeeze in a few tables. But then he’d lose the bar seats because it’s such a narrow space.
And it really is a lovely bar, even lovelier than before with its new tin-metal wrap.
The entire room, designed by Genevieve Legg of Formed 4 Design, is quite mesmerizing and such a nice change from the usual cookie-cutter appointments.
Service is beyond friendly. It’s soothing.
“You don’t have to rush,” general manager Marc Dumouchel gently assured one night as I tried to gobble up my food to get in and out within the standard 90-minute seating-time limit.
Nibbling on dessert – a deconstructed Ferrero Rocher with tiny rosettes of chicken liver mousse tamed by dark chocolate and toasted hazelnuts – I felt delighted, challenged and, for the first time in a long time, totally relaxed while dining out.
“Don’t you just wish we could go dancing after this?” I said to my date.
Dancing, unfortunately, will be a long time coming. In the meantime, if you feel like forgetting all your worries, Straight and Marrow is a delectable little place to get lost.
I do, however, still worry about it.
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