845 Burrard Street, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2K7
Tastiness Factor: 9/10
Locavore Approved? YES- Chef Chen's seafood-forward menu is chock-full of ingredients from local suppliers, many of whom are recognized in person on the Boulevard website (see here). Much of the seafood is Oceanwise-approved and is purchased right off the boats of local fishermen. The produce used in the dishes is fittingly seasonal, with a nice mix of beets, kale, mushrooms and squash on our December visit. All in all, they live up to their motto of "fresh, local, inspired".
I was once of the mind that hotel restaurants should be avoided at all costs. But that notion just does not hold true anymore, at least here in Vancouver which is home to highly respected hotel restaurants like Hawksworth, Yew and Forage (to name just a few).
And then there is Boulevard. Although it opened just a few short months ago, it has already garnered itself quite a following. The downtown working folk flock to its chic bar on a nightly basis and its large room is full of diners most nights of the week. It is obvious that Executive Chef Alex Chen knows how to draw a crowd. His experiences in Beverly Hills, Chicago, and more recently as "Culinary Architect" at Moxie's have served him well and his top ten finish at the prestigious world culinary competition "Bocuse D'or" is downright impressive.
I was therefore surprised to read a number of reviews describing excellent service and so-so food and figured I had to go check things out for myself. What I found ended up being just the opposite- first class food with second class service.
I should start by complementing the folks at Boulevard on the amazing renovation that took place to turn the previous restaurant Fleuri into the beautiful, expansive space that it has become. The decor is upscale and classy, and I can see why other reviewers have likened it to a New York hotspot. It is certainly more on the formal side than most places in Vancouver (a brave move in this city) but the room is brought alive by the bar at the back that is hopping for the better part of the day. Unfortunately, we were seated at the front of the room, far from the bar and all of the action in a large awkward semi-circular booth that made it impossible to have a good conversation that included all 6 of us (you literally had to yell at the person on the opposite end). I therefore highly recommend requesting a seat in the back half of the restaurant and, if you have a large group, specify that you not be seated in a booth.
With the exception of seating blip, we really loved the polished and refined atmosphere and excepted the service to follow suit. Unfortunately, contrary to previous reviews, the service was by far the worst part of the evening and is the only reason I am not able to give Boulevard a glowing review. It all started when we walked in (exactly on time may I add). The hostess at the front was rather cold and then did not offer to take our coats. We had to chase someone down once we were seated and realized that it would be impossible for us to fit comfortably in the booth with our coats in tow. Even then, it was like pulling teach to have our coats taken. We later met our main server who did not crack a single smile the entire night. He seemed annoyed when we were not immediately ready with our wine selection, and then took our orders very abruptly without barely uttering a word. I hope this was not their idea of Xmas cheer! On a positive note, they did do a good job timing-wise, with adequate spacing between appies and mains and several servers bringing out our dishes simultaneously so we all start right away.
Although first impressions were sub-par when it came to our seat and the service, Boulevard fortunately went way up in my books when we finally had the chance to experience the work of Chef Chen. The first thing to note is the plating. There are few places in Vancouver that are on the same level in terms of presentation. Really spectacular. And fortunately, the food not only looks pretty but tasted darn good as well. Everyone at the table cleaned their plates and enjoyed every last bite.
The drink selection at Boulevard includes a variety of cocktails (classic and signature), beer and a very complete wine list with 2 pages of local wines to choose from.
The food menu is divided into several categories including starters, share, soup & salad, pasta & risotto, “sea”, “land”, "enhancements" (sides). It is quite a large menu for an upscale restaurant, which will suit a group with various tastes and, from what we experienced, everything was done well. Be prepared to pay about $15-20 for appies and $30-40 for most entrees. Fortunately, at these prices you will not leave hungry. Portion sizes are on the larger end for high-end dining and we were all quite satisfied after an appie and a main (and those that splurged on dessert, even more so!).
Here is a look at what we enjoyed. I have only commented on the dishes the Hubby and I ate, but the reviews of our diner friends were largely positive all around.
Octopus a la Plancha- I do not often order octopus but this appie really caught my eye. And thank goodness and went with my gut (no pun intended). I can honestly say that this was one of the best octopus dishes I ever had. The generous portion of octopus, Oceanwise-approved, was texturally perfect (not the least bit rubbery) and was complimented by slightly similar sized cuts of softer smoked potatoes. The romesco sauce that lined the plate was to die for and brightened the dish. I could have just had another 2 plates of this and been more than satisfied. Isn't it pretty?
Tableside Ahi Tuna Tataki- I am not quite sure how I feel about the “tableside” preparation of this dish. While I understand that they were going for something “showy” to go along with their Manhattan vibe, I found it a bit cheesy and felt that it did not add anything to the dish to have it prepared that way (the tuna was not going to get “soggy” by the time it emerged from the kitchen in the way that a salad would). Add to that our waiter who made it look like such a chore, frowning the whole way through, and it lost all appeal. Hubby was not too impressed by the taste either and said it was pretty pedestrian.
Crispy Chicken Wings- This is one of their most raved about dishes!
Squash Risotto- Although this was slightly less impressive than my dreamy octopus appie, it was still very good. The perfectly portioned al-dente rice was topped with a creamy, vibrant orange squash puree, dollops of crème fraiche and a few coined carrots were tossed in for a textural contrast. The kohlrabi ribbons overtop were a nice touch and added some lightness to the otherwise rich dish.
Signature Burger- Hubby, the burger connoisseur, said this burger was “just OK” and thought it was a bit underdone (certainly less than medium, which is how the waiter said it would be cooked). The fries though were another story- exceptional!
Magret Duck Breast
Spaghetti Alle Vongole
Opera Bar- Hubby decided to splurge on dessert but was underwhelmed by this chocolate cake which he thought was pretty “boring”. Go for the Apple dessert instead! (see next)
I was pleasantly surprised at how great the food is here. Chef Chen is obviously cooking at a very high level. There were some dishes here that could rival any in the city and dish presentation was outstanding. The atmosphere is well suited for either a date night or for a corporate gathering around the bar. The only disappointing thing about the night was the service, which lacked any personality and bordered on rude. Once they can work out a few kinks in the service department, I think that Boulevard has the potential to rise high on the list of fine restaurants here in Vancouver.