Forage/Executive Chef Chris Whittaker

Though I’d never had the chance to dine at O’Doul’s Restaurant at Vancouver’s Listel Hotel, I’ve enjoyed Head Chef Chris Whittaker’s food at several events around the city. Forage, open for one month as of this writing, is Chef Whittaker’s dream restaurant brought to life. He was looking for a way to marry his philosophy of locally-sourced food with a completely sustainable operation. He’s a forager at heart, growing his own veggies, catching his own fish, canning preserves, composting his family’s waste, all in the true spirit of keeping as light an environmental footprint as possible.

Forage/wood branding

Originally from northwestern Ontario, he left in 1999 to follow his dreams of becoming a professional chef. He’s worked for five years at the now-defunct Pacific Palisades Hotel (back when it was part of the Kimpton chain), later working for five and a half years at O’Doul’s, the space where Forage has now blossomed from.

I was invited together with a couple of other food lovers in the media (Fred Lee and Joshua McVeity) to sample several dishes off the menu. Forage opened its doors in November, and has seen a steady stream of customers from locals, businessmen, hotel guests and foodies curious about Chef Whittaker’s new digs.


The clean, modern space is welcoming and warm, with a central bar located just past the entrance. I like the little design touches such as the Forage-branded candle holders and little moss-filled jars containing those nifty battery-operated tea lights.

Once seated at the bar, there’s a wealth of drink choices available. Look for 10 BC craft beers on tap (this year’s seasonal is Russell Brewing’s A Wee Angry Scotch Ale), bottled Cascadia beers, Sea Cider’s ‘Pippins’ craft cider, cocktails, and wines on tap and by the bottle. Sweet, sour, and savoury cocktails ($12 each) cater to several palates.

I particularly enjoyed the 2010 Blue Mountain Pinot noir with our flatbreads, charcuterie plate, and bison tongue ravioli. That dark fruity aroma and medium body with its velvety smooth tannins is such a great accompaniment to many of the dishes here.

The 2010 is sold out, however there’s a March 2013 release date for the 2011 Pinot.

Forage/Cracklings and popcorn

We also sampled Nichol Vineyards‘ 2011 Pinot gris, excellent with one of the restaurant’s go-to appetizers, cracklings and popcorn, but it fell short of wooing me for the meatier dishes to follow. It has a drier finish than what I normally look for in a dinner wine, but the colour is delicate with a light golden hue, and it has pear, apple, and grapefruit notes with a long finish.

One by one, the appetizers came out. Cracklings and popcorn ($6), as mentioned earlier, has become somewhat of an institution at Forage. Duck fat and pork rinds with popcorn, oh my! Such a great little dish to start the evening off, with the subtle smokiness of the crackle mixed in with Chilliwack corn kernels.

Forage/Spicy kale and apple chips

The spicy kale and apple chips ($5) were also a great combination of flavours and textures, but what I enjoyed the most was the gnocchi and brown butter ($6), served in a little iron skillet. Warm, soft goodness here.

Forage/Squash pierogies, birch syrup vinegar reduction, smokey potatoes, scallion crème fraîche

The squash pierogies ($12) are served with birch syrup vinegar reduction, smokey potatoes, and scallion crème fraîche. Another winning combination of heart-warming comfort food.

Forage/Alpine juniper duck confit, Neufchâtel, roasted garlic and arugula flatbread

The solo flatbread ($12) that appears on the menu is a tasteful spread of alpine juniper duck, Neufchâtel, roasted garlic and arugula. Simple, and not fussed over, this too was a gorgeous little starter.

Forage/BC spot prawn and seafood chowder, soft-poached egg, smoked chicharrón, pork hock

We next sampled a charcuterie plate ($16) containing chicken liver parfait, pickled walnuts, and homemade IPA-infused mustard but what got my attention was this year’s award-winning BC spot prawn and seafood chowder. This gorgeous chowder won both the People’s Choice and Critic’s Choice awards at the Aquarium’s annual Chowder Chowdown. Forage had only been open for one day prior to the event, yet Chef Whittaker and his team managed to capture both awards, a Chowdown first.

Soft-poached egg on top, with the smoky goodness of chicharrón and pork hock. At $12, it’s a good value, a dish that I hope will stick around on the menu.

Forage/Bison tongue ravioli, cress, crispy parsnip, grilled matsutake, braising jus

Bison tongue ravioli ($17) may sound like a challenge, but this bison’s smoothly cooked to a tender consistency and comes in a bowl topped with cress, crispy parsnip, grilled matsutake mushrooms (prized by the Japanese for its distinct spicy-aromatic odor), and braising jus. It’s one large piece of ravioli that can be sliced and shared. The toppings easily travel with the cut pieces for full enjoyment of this unique dish.

Forage/Foraged and cultivated mushrooms, Okanagan goat cheese, grilled caraway rye

Mushroom and goat cheese fans shouldn’t miss out on the foraged and cultivated mushroom dish ($12), perfectly suited to go on top of the homemade caraway rye (the chef’s own family recipe).

Forage/Pacific provider salmon, Pemberton potatoes, sea asparagus, pickled huckleberries

Pacific Provider salmon ($16) was our last entrée of the meal, brought out in another little skillet filled with Pemberton potatoes, ‘bread and butter’ (picked) sea asparagus, and pickled huckleberries. The salmon was pink and flaky inside, and though I found the asparagus a bit overwhelming for my taste, the potatoes were an excellent match with the fish’s delicate flavor and consistency.

Forage/Apple pie, honey streusel, quince jelly

And then there were three desserts ($8 each) to choose from. We ordered all three, each of us with a particular favourite in mind. While I loved both the apple pie dish (served with a tiny jar of quince jelly, mint, and whiskey-infused apple balls) and carrot cake with its beautifully topped cranberry sorbet, the clear winner at our table was the pain perdu.

Forage/Carrot cake, Neufchâtel frosting, candied walnut, cranberry sorbet

An autumn spice brioche loaded with hazelnut caramel, and a ring of brie Anglaise sauce – a sheer delight!

Forage/Pain perdu, spice brioche, hazelnut caramel, brie Anglaise

The soft goodness of that brioche with the gooey caramel and milky taste of the sauce hit all marks of amazingness. Not to mention the crackly hazelnut brittle that shines atop the entire creation. This will be my dessert upon return.

The 75-seater in the heart of Robson Street will be featured in Dine Out next month. I’ve heard that a charcuterie plate and that luscious chowder will be part of their prix-fixe menu. The event’s official menu announcement won’t happen until January 7, so we’ll have to stay tuned. For now, I recommend this restaurant for its comfortable atmosphere, excellent variety of dishes, and good variety of wines and beer to enjoy alongside.

Forage Vancouver is located at 1300 Robson Street in downtown Vancouver and is open for breakfast, brunch, and dinner.

My meal was courtesy of Forage Vancouver. A big thank you to Sue Alexander who arranged our small media dinner.


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