By now, most every Vancouverite who is passionate about food, the way chefs David Gunawan and partner Dara Young are passionate about food, has been to – or at the very least heard of – Farmer’s Apprentice. At the locavore restaurant set on a quiet, leafy street on Vancouver’s West 6th Avenue, the pair serves dishes that showcase the best of the city’s seasonal ingredients, be they from nearby farmers markets or sustainably caught seafood.
It’s no surprise that En Route magazine voted Farmer’s Apprentice “Best Restaurant” in 2014. Recently, the duo took over the space next door to their award-winning restaurant to open Grapes & Soda. The small and unassuming space is quite unique in the city in that it not only serves organic and biodynamic wines but tailors its food around them, instead of the other way around. “We intended Grapes & Soda to function as a space where we could create a dialogue on how to pair natural and organic wines with great cuisine in a fun environment,” says Gunawan. “Instead of focusing on the ingredients, as we tend to do at Farmer’s Apprentice, here we focus on the wine, and create memorable dishes that bring out the subtle qualities of each wine with every bite.”
Like Magazine stopped by Grapes & Soda to sample the menu, sip some wines, and chat with Young and sommelier Hao-Yang Wang about this new concept in Vancouver’s ever dynamic food scene.
How did the idea of opening an organic wine bar come about?
[DARA YOUNG]: We wanted to expand while still maintaining a cozy atmosphere, and it seemed like a natural progression for our brand. We also felt like the neighbourhood needed a friendly place to have a cocktail. At Grapes & Soda we try to express the same principles that govern our lives, which is essentially a respect for the old way of farming – both grapes and food.
What exactly makes wine organic? Are the wines certified organic?
[DY]: Not all producers are large enough to be able to afford the certification. Similar to the way we source our food, we have to do our research to make sure the winemaker is producing in a way we feel comfortable standing behind. Luckily there are many winemakers who share our philosophy, and we’ve been able to connect with some really amazing, like-minded people from around the world throughout the process.
What about biodynamic wine? What does that term entail?
[DY]: Biodynamic agriculture is largely credited to Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and social reformer who developed the concept in the 1920s. Biodynamic winemaking and farming fits into the way our ecosystem already functions. A biodynamic vineyard will have plants growing around the grapes to control pests, and animals roaming freely to fertilize the soil. It’ll also follow the lunar cycle so the grapes are harvested when have the ideal concentration of juice. It’s a very interesting philosophy and one that goes back to our roots, before pesticides and over-mechanized farming came into the picture.
How does the menu differ from that at Farmer’s Apprentice?
[DY]: Instead of focusing on the ingredients first, as we do at Farmer’s Apprentice, the menu at Grapes & Soda was created to complement an assortment of natural wines by highlighting the subtle qualities in each. We believe that food and wine should be celebrated together, and shared with friends in a fun environment.
Unlike most restaurant that create a wine list around the food they serve, you guys started with the wines first. Did you find that approach to be more challenging, to start with a wine list and create dishes around them?
[HAO-YANG WANG]: There are certainly some different challenges with our approach, compared to the conventional way of doing things. In a typical environment the chef works with the kitchen team to create the menu, but in our case, I collaborate with the chef to come up with tasting notes for each wine, which then inspire the dishes we create. The challenge is often translating our notes into a dish using ingredients that are seasonal and readily available.
Was there any one wine that you were particularly excited to create a dish to pair with?
[HYW]: The Verdicchio di Matalica from Colle Stefano tastes like summer in a glass, with bright, crisp acidity, and lemony yet lightly savoury notes. We wanted to pair it with something oily and salty to really make the palate crave the refreshing quality of the wine, so we went with an anchovy dish (with fresh fennel salad and olive oil croutons) which I feel does just that.
Was there any one wine that was more challenging to pair with a dish?
[HYW]: The Marie Courtin ‘Resonance’ Champagne is delicious and pairs well with many things, but we decided to challenge ourselves and try something different from the conventional oyster and seafood pairing. We’re serving it with our burrata dish (with crispy and pickled shallots, fava tip salad and beet juice), which has a creamy and velvety texture that contrasts nicely with the bubbles.
Can you tell me about the wines you chose? I didn’t see any Canadian wines on the list. Is that because there are no organic wines in Canada? Or there aren’t any good ones?
[DY]: While it’s definitely more common in the Old World, we’re seeing lots of wineries closer to home that are transitioning towards an organic and biodynamic winemaking philosophy. Our current list is mostly focused on wines from France and Italy, though we’re very open to featuring wines from all over the world as long as they fit our criteria. We’ve also had the pleasure of working with sommelier Linda Violago (a huge advocate for natural wine) who helped create the list along with Hao. She’s based out of Paris and has access to many of the producers in that region.
The cocktail is really fun, lots of interesting ingredients like guava, marmalade curd, rhubarb. We loved the Clover Club. What dessert would you pair that with?
[HYW]: Although not currently on our menu, we’ve done an elderflower and rhubarb sorbet with beet-infused mascarpone and diced beets that pairs beautifully with the Clover Club.
How often will the food menu change? What about the wines, are you looking for more organic wines to add to the list?
[HYW]: I’m always looking to add more wines to the list. Every time I do, I sit down with Chef Ron [Shaw] and Bar Manager Satoshi [Yonemori] for a tasting so we can work on a dish to pair with it. The food menu will change just as often as the wine does — typically every two or three weeks.
Dara Young’s Vancouver
OFF DUTY EATERY Nook in Kitsilano. It’s walking distance from where I live!
GO-TO DRINK A vesper or negroni. I’ll drink it anywhere with a good bartender — The Keefer Bar, Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar and UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar are a few of my favourites.
IDEAL VANCOUVER SUNDAY I’d start with a working brunch, followed by a hike with my dog, Gyoza. I’d end the day by enjoying some wine on the beach at sunset.
PLACE TO TAKE OUT-OF-TOWN VISITORS Burdock & Co.
FAVOURITE FARMERS MARKET The Winter Farmers Market at Nat Bailey Stadium
LOCAL BREWERY Brassneck Brewery.
NEXT BIG FOOD TREND I really hope it’ll be Tacos, but I’m also seeing a lot of ramen!