The new Glowbal restaurant in Telus Garden is spacious enough to accommodate a herd of elephants – and that's just on the main floor. So let's address the obvious one in the room right off the bat.
Glowbal is not a restaurant for food snobs. If you're the type of eater who prefers cozy neighbourhood joints where fresh herbs are plucked from windowsill planters, tattooed servers swagger to an indie-pop playlist and the jumbo shrimp are certifiably free of slave-ship taint, you probably won't enjoy this flashy 400-seat behemoth where the walls are papered in gold and the menu reads like shorthand for ostentatious luxury: caviar, oysters, truffles and Japanese wagyu.
But you already knew that, didn't you? Food snobs don't really frequent any of the Glowbal Restaurant Group locations, a rapidly growing empire that includes Italian Kitchen, Coast, Black + Blue, Fish Shack, Trattoria and the new grab-and-go Nosh café.
Owner Emad Yacoub knows this, too. And he doesn't care. Even before opening Glowbal, he fended off the snobs (and perhaps the hearing impaired) with a pre-emptive tagline plastered all over the restaurant press materials and website. "Glowbal: Big, Bold and Unapologetically Chaotic."
Don't like it? Too bad. Mr. Yacoub and his partners are too busy welcoming the less-finicky masses to their Playboy-like mansion, where diners can swing in life-size birdcages on the year-round patio or retreat to the Marilyn Room (one of three private dining areas) with its silhouettes of naked pinup girls studded onto leather-padded walls.
So there is no point in reviewing Glowbal from a food-snob perspective. Instead, let's review it on its own terms.
Yes, the restaurant is big: 17,000 square feet over two levels. And big can be grand, especially when you're entertaining friends or clients from out of town and want to show them a happening place with sizzle. If this is the case, be sure to reserve seats at the bar, which wraps around the open kitchen with a huge custom-built, gas-fired robata grill at centre stage. But don't be surprised if it takes at least 10 minutes for a bartender to acknowledge your presence. It is an awfully big bar with a lot of action behind it. You might even have to wave – a couple of times – for attention.
Bold? Indeed. From the transparent glass sidewalk, framed by a dramatically curved wood-and-glass awning that looks like a whale skeleton, the exterior architecture is striking. Inside, the decor is all shiny copper, marble and glass, including a two-storey exhaust-fan shaft clad with what looks like glittery mermaid skin.
Chaotic? You had better believe it. The place is so topsy-turvy on Friday nights that you might easily make contact with three staff members – host, manager and server – without any of them asking to check your coat. They're so busy smiling and whizzing around all that square footage while listening to their wireless earpieces that they might just leave you sitting in a narrow high-back chair at a white-cloth table with a bulky wool coat in your lap and not even notice – until you ask them to take it away.
Is that snobbish? No, a proper greeting is a standard expectation in any upscale restaurant. As are wine glasses without big chips on the rim – especially when the glasses are brought to the table by a senior sommelier after extensive consultation about an expensive bottle of wine.
A little chaos makes for lively ambience; a lot signals incompetence.
Chaotic is also a good way to describe the menu, a mixed bag that offers a little bit of everything (seafood, steak, pasta) from all Glowbal Group restaurants. In this context, the chaos is mostly good.
Fans of the original Glowbal Grill in Yaletown (Glowbal Group's first restaurant) will be happy to find such all-time favourites as Brussels sprouts (pan-seared until crispy with capers, lemon and chili, then dusted in a snowfall of grated Parmesan) and Truffled Spaghetti & Signature Meatballs. These are Vancouver cult classics for good reason.
The pasta here is far better than the pasta at Trattoria. The short rib pappardelle is sumptuous and satisfying with its creamy café au lait sauce, mix of mushrooms and sprinkling of toasted pine nuts. The cioppino is a perfectly cooked medley of lobster, king crab, mussels and jumbo prawns in a rustic tomato broth lightly seasoned with sherry. The satay skewers? Well, they were exciting when the first Glowbal opened in 2002. Now they just taste kind of stale. Skip the bland yogurt-marinated chicken and be wary about ordering wagyu (one night, the pricey beef was served inexplicably overcooked and chewy). But do order the fatty, crackled kurobuta pork cheek and the excellent al pastor pork with just the right balance of chili heat and pineapple sweet.
Executive chef Pedro Gonzalez is from California, by way of Las Vegas. He has a deft touch with Latin flavours and elegant fusion. One of his best dishes is the Japanese-inflected casarecce tossed with chunky smoked bacon, wild mushrooms (sautéed and tempura) and a richly umami dashi beurre blanc. Japanese pasta is a thing. This homestyle recipe comes courtesy of Mr. Gonzalez's wife, Aiko. It's better than any of the izakaya pastas in town. Even the food snobs will like it.