Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Andrew Morrison said last week, in a review of Abigail's Party, "slightly imperfect meals, when perfectly served, are okay by me." This is often how I react to restaurants too. And this is generally my take on a brand new izakaya style restaurant on Davie St., 1215 (604-633-1215, 1215 Davie at Bute, former Hesperos Greek Restaurant). I really loved the staff at 1215. I couldn't have been made to feel more comfortable in the little dark room, than I was, despite being the first dinner customer of the night, and being dramatically outnumbered by all the staff. In fact, this tiny place had what seemed to be a ridiculous number of staff that night. And every person seemed to have a hand in serving me. Picture it - one customer, sitting at the bar, with two male and two female staff attending...and I was sitting right in front of the chefs preparing my meal too. I think that they will do well on vibrant Davie St. , simply because they've figured out, unlike many restaurants in town, that people will come back to a restaurant with excellent service, and will tend to be a bit forgiving if the people involved in an establishment are really friendly and accommodating. It's evident in the number of staff scheduled for that evening on a Tuesday, two weeks into operation, and it's also evident in the warmth of the service, and even the nametags that they wear. They are all clearly marked with their first names. Even Chef/Owner Shige wears one. He's the chef from Hapa Izakaya. And the enthusiastic shouting, both in greeting and in goodbye was maybe the loudest and cheeriest I've ever heard in a Japanese restaurant. For me, I will come back to this restaurant just because of this earnest attitude.

However, the place, for me, begs for comparison with Yuji's on W. 4th, because of the "fusion" (oh, how I hate using the 'f word'...) of izakaya style food with western influences and Vancouver ingredients has been going on there beautifully for years now, and to be perfectly honest, while dishes seem hit and miss (at least right now) at 1215, I've never had a miss at Yuji's. My first dish, blue fin tuna tartar with avocado ($8 - 9), served with pieces of nori to make my own wraps was beautiful dish to look at, and just fine to eat, but not terribly exciting. The fish was fresh, and the servers did tell me that they had just received the blue fin, and the daily specials sheet featured various blue fin dishes. I probably should have ordered the blue fin tuna tataki dish, as recommended, for a more exciting flavour. I did enjoy my "pork poppers" which were three panko-breaded little pork, tomato (I think) and cheese lumps served with a little tonkatsu sauce on the side, as well as some nicely dressed baby mesclun. I also ordered a carbohydrate dish - their garlic rice stuffed squid in a tomato sauce, which I would not order again. While it was flavourful and deeply garlicky, the overall mushiness of the dish just didn't appeal to me. One more note about the exceptional service though. When I suggested that this dish would benefit from a crunchy accompaniment, my server happily accepted this comment, and even (a little embarassingly for me) passed it on to the chef directly. I do take some responsibility though, in not enjoying this dish, because it was well-described in the menu. I regretted my choices overall, and feel like I could have ordered better. And to be fair, their dishes are meant to be shared with others, and normally one person wouldn't be faced with an entire rice-stuffed squid to eat on their own. But let's be real here for a moment. A really successful restaurant should have a menu made up of all winners, with a number of superstars. The superstars might have been in that menu, but I spent $27.50 (including tax, and a $3 Calpico and soda, but before tip) trying to find them. But will I try again? Absolutely. And it'll be very interesting to see how the dishes get tweaked as this brand new restaurant develops. Having enjoyed the Hapa Izakaya food from Chef Shige immensely, I have a lot of confidence in this little place, and I have a feeling they'll find their way soon. And it's already garnered some positive attention from food critics (Tim Pawsey's Vancouver Courier article, and Andrew Morrison's Westender article), despite its quiet opening, lack of advertising and their blacked out window concept. Well, it seemed to work out for Hapa. I stumbled onto the place simply because I got off the bus right in front of it, and they had propped open the door, allowing me a glimpse of their menu sitting on a stand in the doorway table. It's a little strange to walk into such a dark little room on a sunny day, but it didn't really bother me. The room is plain, but I think that they can leave that alone, and work on the food, to ensure that people on Davie will feel like they will get their money's worth and choose this restaurant over the others nearby. I do give them credit for providing an interesting non-traditional menu, when most of the Davie St. offerings tend to be on the safe side, and look forward to trying their intriguing matcha desserts too. After all, they did provide me with a very enjoyable time overall, gossiping at the bar, especially the part where he let me in on their recent restaurant reviewer experiences. I wanted to "spill the edamame" on my secret blogging identity, but of course, I had to hold back. Incidentally, the internet is amazing thing! I believe I've coined this phrase, when I used it in my first Yuji's post, and it seems to have become adopted by one other food writer now (or perhaps arrived at independently), and maybe it'll eventually become a common part of the foodie lexicon, at least in Vancouver. Anyhow, back to 1215. The lesson learned here, for any of you thinking of opening up a restaurant or improving an existing restaurant, is: never underestimate the service component of the restaurant equation.


Tai said...

Couldn't agree with you more.

Unfortunately, sometimes the food is so poor that it's imposible to overlook.

Cassis was the opposite, food was good...service was hit and miss. I went in 3 seperate times, spread out over a year just to double check because I love the room and food, but no.

I'll try again, but I'm not expecting much.

Dumpling_Girl said...

Thanks for your comment, Tai. For me, Cassis was hit and miss on both food and service when I went, so I never bothered to go back. I love the room too, and the building. But to be fair, while the competency of the service was a bit lacking, the attitude and friendliness of the staff were just fine, and I could go back. It's when the service gets rude or snobbish that I really make a point of staying away. I will check in on 1215 again soon.