Wildebeest a slice of Portland cool
Situated in a refurbished 19th-century building on Water Street, Wildebeest's open-concept kitchen, high-top banquette seating, Toledo lab stools and inviting eating area sets the mood for a fine, yet casual, dining experience. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Good news! You don't have go through a border crossing or drive six hours to get a taste of Portland's progressive foodie scene. Wildebeest has just opened its doors for business in Gastown (120 W. Hastings St.), and while it's a Vancouver venture all the way, it's definitely got bit of that forward-thinking Rose City hipster vibe going on.
For starters, it's a long, narrow, refurbished 19th century brick-walled room that reminds one of a classic American tavern. Then there's the open-concept kitchen and communal dining tables at the back of the main dining room. Anyone who's ever dined at Portland's Clyde Common beside the Ace Hotel, will appreciate this liberal-minded layout. That said, there's also an underground wine bar, which, of course, is distinctly Gastown (at its Euro best) - not to mention awesome.
And then there's the ambitious menu of mostly small entrees.
Working directly with local farms and farmers, executive chef David Gunawan (formerly of West fame) focuses on "whole-animal" cookery. That's why he doesn't just offer 48-hour-cooked natural beef short rib ($16), he also cooks dry-aged beef ribeye ($42), roasted bone marrow ($13), and even beef tongue ($14). And he doesn't just serve pork jowl with plums, long pepper-scented oats and bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup ($15) for dinner, he also offers crispy, salted pork skin ($4) and pork croquette ($6) on the appie menu.
Pork and red meat not your thing? No problem.
He gets particularly creative with seafood in dishes such as the honey-cured steelhead trout with beets, fresh raspberry, sorrel, herb crumbs, roasted potatoes and dill oil ($14).
And don't worry, even if you're not a "foodie" per se (my dining companion wasn't), chances are you'll enjoy the funky setting, cocktail list and even some of the more adventurous creations - tomatoes for dessert anyone?