Review: Homer Street Cafe
Homer Street Cafe pairs Old World elegance with the rustic charm of a fine brasserie–all to set the stage for showstopper rotisserie chicken
January 2, 2014
Sunday afternoon and the brunch rush is in full swing. My friend Lenny reaches over to stab at his boyfriend’s chicken cobbler topped with a (de rigueur) oozing poached egg. “My salad is lame,” he says with a shrug. A staffer materializes out of nowhere: “Sorry to hear that. Was there a problem with the dish?” And Lenny flushes — truthfully, his salad of shredded rotisserie chicken and radicchio with a briny caper dressing wasn’t lame. It just wasn’t satisfying his grease and salt craving. (A follow-up dish of fried oysters with aioli-licked frisée did the trick.) But points, we all agreed, for the server’s affable professionalism. And for the wicked Chicken Marys (that’s chicken-infused vodka with tomato juice) garnished with a piece of crispy chicken skin.
Homer Street Café is a restaurant at the no-man’s-land intersection of Homer and Smithe, on the fringe of Yaletown and the edge of Stadiumtown. But spiritually it exists somewhere between Soho’s Balthazar and Paris’s Gare du Nord brasserie. That might sound a little hoity-toity, but consider this: without exception, the first thing everyone says after a meal there is that it doesn’t feel like Vancouver. “There’s a precedent here for both premium-casual dining and a West Coast modern sensibility,” says designer Craig Stanghetta (Bao Bei, Meat & Bread, Revolver), “but we allowed ourselves to be inspired by historical references.” The interplay of materials (handcrafted mosaic tile, reclaimed timber with a beautiful patina), the scale of the space, the vignettes that create private moments within the bustle of this rather grand café all add up to a room that’s rusticity refined. A little messy, but with a sense of occasion. At the centre, monolithic Calacatta marble frames an open kitchen where a souped-up cherry-red rotisserie pumps out 250 free-range chickens per week — noteworthy because, gorgeous décor aside, that’s really why you’re here.
And so at dinner we ordered the signature rotisserie chicken, which was moist and flavourful, its skin deliciously tacky, the accompanying pee-wee potatoes lusciously slick with drippings. (Yep, rusticity refined.) Seated in the lower atrium, surrounded by buzzy, beautiful people, we were hard-pressed to remember that this was once a Chinese-Canadian greasy spoon. (Owner Lilliana de Cotiis and her executive chef, Marc-André Choquette, of the Loden Hotel, are masters at creating spaces where indulgent afternoons ease into indulgent evenings.) We started with a crispy quail, carrot, and pistachio salad dressed with tangy yogurt, and a side of that outrageous crispy chicken skin. (I found it too much of a good thing, but it disappeared quickly — my boyfriend never met a deep-fried protein he could resist.) Clever sommelier Alex Thornley guided us through the “rare finds” section of the wine list, and we landed on a glass of Denavolo, a natural wine from Emilia-Romagna. We also opted for the feature roast, a veal loin with sunchoke purée and roasted chanterelle mushrooms (there was something in the autumn air because the next night at L’Abattoir we were offered a nearly identical dish), which, truth be told, was a tad dry — but oh, the chicken.