When you think about it, there is some level of irony in The Derrick. The gin bar and restaurant named after the metal frame that towers over oil wells around the world has proved to be consistently busy since opening in November, while the city's core slowly resembles a ghost town more and more following layoff after layoff. There's no point tip-toeing around it: Opening a restaurant these days is a gamble, but at this location, sitting between an out-of-business theatre and soon-to-be-open gay bar, it seems to be paying off.
Granted, many people will drink their feelings when the economic outlook seems bleak, so perhaps this is where The Derrick found its footing in the local food scene. With more than 40 varieties of gin behind the bar and a team of talented mixologists such as Savanna Beach, leave your food opinions aside and this place is a gin fan's dream come true. In Vancouver, a similar concept called Juniper pales in contrast, with only a small selection of the aromatic spirit and uninspired plates of food. On paper, it looks like Derrick is off to a good start.
The boom: Chef Marc Bourgeois' menu might be somewhat limited and aimed at executive appetites (read: meat, meat, meat), but it is certainly not without its aces. His smoked beef tartare is a perfect example of a showstopping take on a classic.
Expertly prepared, well-seasoned and studded with capers, the rich, fine-chopped beef comes on a small platter with appropriately tart pickled bell peppers and onions and dots of aioli encapsulated (until arrival) in a smoke-filled glass dome. In the land of beef, a tartare of some sort graces most menus, and more often than not it's pleasurable, yes, but not overly memorable. This, on the other hand stands out from the pack. It is creative, it is visual and it is memorable.
The Montreal smoked meat sandwich is another success. Carnivorously filling with a healthy slathering of mustard to cut through the sky-high salty stack of cured beef. Equally impressive is the fried chicken. Now, if you read those two words and rolled eyes, know that we are not so different. That being said, an overdone dish – even one on its way to contemporary restaurant extinction – can still be a good one. A foundation of creamy grits drizzled with rich gravy and house-made hot sauce set the stage for a beautifully golden and crispy chicken breast. It is as if a big, greasy plate of Southern chicken put on a suit and went out for a night on the town. Chicken with some thought behind it is always appreciated.
The bust: As the downtown workers reach the bottom of their happy-hour cocktail glasses and slowly shuffle out, Derrick loses a lot of its shine. It loses its liveliness. From day to night, the servers' outfits seem to get a little, well, light on amount of fabric, and the menu that once read as an interesting lunch comes off as fairly dull under the glow of the restaurant's subdued lighting.
After waiting 20 minutes for cocktails, ordering went smoothly to start, as I assured my friends the beef tartare was a sure thing and the skillet of sauteed escargot with lardons and mushrooms in a cognac sauce seemed promisingly satiating. Both predictions rang true.
Then the others arrived.
I find it hard to believe that any patron would feel content with Derrick's $18, allegedly roasted root-vegetable cassoulet. A minimal amount of white beans drowning in a watered-down tomato sauce topped with overcooked Brussels sprouts and thin pieces of boiled beets is certainly not my idea of a satisfactory vegetarian option. Sadly, salads aside, it is the only one on the menu. Much like I had imagine how vegetarians look at a steak and see a scared, doe-eyed calf, my friends and I stared at the cassoulet and saw a disappointed, doe-eyed vegan.
Equally perplexing to our table was a muted grey pork meatball ragu served atop rice. The pickled cabbage on top was valiant in its attempt to salvage the unseasoned meatballs swimming in a sauce that was arguably palatable, but completely unappetizing visually.
Sipping on The Last Word – a refreshing and bold trifecta of gin, green chartreuse and maraschino with a balancing splash of lime juice – while spooning into the gin and tonic-inspired dessert consisting of a tonic-infused posset, gin marshmallow and cookie crumble that marked the end to an average-at-best dinner downtown, I could not help but think to myself, "I wish it was noon."