Vancouver’s Fable Kitchen: Worth Waiting for the Best Seat in the House

by Tim Pawsey on October 6, 2012

in Artisan Producers, Vancouver dining, West Coast

Fable Kitchen canned tuna—it’s a showstopper, TP photo

For some reason I missed posting about Fable Kitchen (1944 West Fourth Ave., 604-732-1722), which I covered in my Vancouver Courier column some weeks ago. What was interesting about this review is that we went on a crazy, busy evening and, as a result, had to line up outside for about half an hour or more.

A happening kitchen

I think it’s fair to say that, despite—or more accurately because of—all the hype over Top Chef Canada chefs, there’s even more pressure on them to perform in a restaurant setting well beyond what might be realistically expected. (Witness the recent, sad demise of Dale MacKay’s two Vancouver restos.) All of which means we tend to head to such places with a fair degree of healthy cynicism.

Hallmark dish: potato crusted chicken

The good news? In the last couple of Top Chef reincarnations at least, we’ve yet to be disappointed. While we were pleasantly surprised withMcKay’s Ensemble (and later E-tap), we were positively blown away by Trevor Bird’s Fable Kitchen. All the more so because there was some serious pressure on the kitchen. And because we wound up getting what we soon realised was the best seat in the house…right in front of Bird, who (as far as I know) didn’t know that we were reviewing. But then again, probably wouldn’t have cared if he did.

Trevor Bird: the chef as point man

From where I was sitting I had a clear view of the packed room, the impossibly compact kitchen and, of course, the chef himself, as he assembled and checked the final plates, called for service and generally orchestrated the entire operation. As you can tell, I was struck by his calm manner—and the utter lack of melodramatics.

In the end, no wonder, it proved to be the hook for our review…

(And now, we can’t wait to go back!)

Here’s the review

True inspiration behind fabulous Fable

By Tim Pawsey, Vancouver Courier

Chances are when you show up at Fable Kitchen there’ll be a lineup, which is not a bad thing. But if you have your heart set on a table, the Hired Belly can give you a tip. Forget it. Grab a seat at the bar, if you can, preferably the stool at the very end on the right. It’s the best seat in the house, where you can take in all the kitchen action-and see what it takes to run a restaurant on a busy night, which these days is every night.

Chef Trevor Bird has a knack for making things happen. Witness the speed with which shuttered Refuel reemerged as this bustling farm-focused eatery and current Kits hotspot. It doesn’t hurt to be a finalist on Top Chef Canada.

From my vantage point, beside where the chef was assembling and checking each plate before it went to the table, I was immediately impressed not only with Bird’s creations but with the confidence displayed in a calm, unaffected manner.

Between calling for servers to pick-up, checking on how many specials are left (it pays to go early), reviewing the next day’s supplies and more, he also found time to visit tables and talk to nosy writers.

So what makes Fable tick? Just about everything, from Bird’s concise but varied menu, which follows the farm-totable mantra of responsibly sourced ingredients, to the well-drilled team in the kitchen and beyond that doesn’t miss a trick. Even for a TV-honed performer, a compact open kitchen such as this can have its pitfalls. Despite the pressure of having everything out in the open-or perhaps because of it-this place hums like clockwork. It has to.

Plates are thoughtful and well-constructed without being unnecessarily complicated. And ingredients are the focus. I especially liked the tone set by the “canned tuna” starter, a mildly addictive assemblage of soft albacore and lemon confit with potato ($12), served in a small mason jar with rock salt on the side, which you can add to suit your own taste. With a glass of petrol-toned Jacob’s Creek 2007 Riesling, it was perfect.

Overall, New World wines are smartly picked and fairly priced, with a solid B.C. selection, as well as good draught beer offerings.

Bird’s potato crusted chicken, artfully wrapped, tasty and moist, served with a vibrant ratatouille, is another keeper- and at $19 representative of the value on offer. I might have opted for the slowcooked sockeye ($24), but it was already gone. However, the rare cooked duck breast with cauliflower and scallion perogies ($24) was a show-stopper.

The flat iron steak with black pepper jam ($22) scored well with our crew, as did Curtis Luk’s desserts, including a rhubarb cake with fennel sherbert ($9).

Of note: Fable is also now open for weekend brunch, with a tempting line-up of free-range Bennies, smoothies, mimosas and more. What more to say? Go early and go often.

Fable Kitchen, 1944 West Fourth Ave., 604-732-1722. Open Tuesday to Sunday for light lunches, dinner and Saturday/Sunday brunch. Best to reserve by email: food@fablekitchen.ca.

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