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Farm-to-table concept Grapes & Soda quietly opened last month next to Farmer’s Apprentice. The brainchild of Farmer’s co-owners David Gunawan and Dara Young, this new intimate space serves to pair natural and organic wines with flavourful bites. The menu contains about half a dozen shared plates, with something for everyone: meat, fish, veg.

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Former Bishop’s Executive Chef and Winnipeg native Ron Shaw lived in London for six years, working at well-known dining establishments including Zuma and Maze. His BC-born wife wished to be closer to home, so they moved back here where Shaw completed his WSET Level 2 exam, with an interest in working in the wine industry. Bishops followed in 2010; he left at the end of 2014 in order to enjoy his first foray into fatherhood. When the space next to Farmer’s Apprentice became available, he was immediately on board with the dining concept they were after.

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[In you go]

The 25-seater is filled with quirky, rustic touches, the chef action front and center with open kitchen and prep area. The compact space is well-utilized with shelving and rows of preserved food and storage jars right in front of the work station. Bottles of current wines on offer sit individually on thick wall-mounted wood block shelves. A variety of lighting and wooden cell phone drawers at each table completes the scene.

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Grapes & Soda is meant to be a fun, casual environment to enjoy a relaxing evening amongst friends. We were there for over two hours, savouring the wines between the four shared plates we ordered. In addition to the plates, there’s cheese, D-Original Sausage Company charcuterie, and two desserts, each paired with its own cocktail!

Bar Manager Satoshi Yonemori (formerly of Wildebeest and The Diamond) clearly has fun creating the restaurant’s cocktail offerings. This sets Grapes & Soda apart from its older sibling next door: drinks are more the focus here.

Grapes and Soda: Bread, cultured butter

Fresh bread with cultured, Maldon salt-topped butter is the best way to start the evening. The breads are sourced locally; on the night of our visit, we were lucky to have discovered Matchstick Rye (sourdough’s another regular in the lineup).

Grapes and Soda: Smoked Sockeye salmon, mizuna, ikura, strawberry, rhubarb

First up was a plate of smoked Sockeye salmon, mizuna, ikura, strawberry and rhubarb, paired with Puzelat-Bonhomme Petillant Naturel Rose 2011. This dish is as colourful as it is flavourful, perfect for summer! The sweetness of the strawberry marries well with the slightly cured and smoked salmon, light and luscious.

Grapes and Soda: Summer peas, goat yogurt, sprouted wheat berries, lemon zest

While a mix of summer peas, goat yogurt, sprouted wheat berries and lemon zest may sound overly uncomplicated, it’s precisely the flavours brought out by the lemon coupled with its Clos Roche Sauvignon Blanc No. 5 Touraine 2012 wine pairing that makes this so fantastic. Enjoy the fruits of this recently-retired Loire valley vineyard that’s recently been sold; it’s Clos Roche’s final vintage.

Grapes and Soda: Chicken balantine, Anson Mills grits, hazelnuts, morels, wild onion emulsion

Moving on to Chicken Balantine (rolled and stuffed with a wild onion emulsion on the side) served with Anson Mills grits, hazelnuts, and morels, you’d have to wonder at the choice of grits. One spoonful and we realized that grits take on a whole new meaning here.

They’re actually aerated and so light and fluffy that adding a morsel of chicken creates a soft, creamy sensation to the palate. The Roagna Langhe Bianco 2012 is primarily Chardonnay with a splash of Nebbiolo grapes, and is lovely with the chicken, morels, and organic greens. Each component on the plate is thoughtfully prepared and seasoned to complement that wine.

Grapes and Soda: Organic beef tartare, beets, berries, cubeb pepper, mustard greens

Organic beef tartare (served here with beets, berries, cubeb pepper and mustard greens) is more my husband’s territory, and in keeping with the season, this too is a light dish to complement a lighter-bodied red (Noella Marantin ‘Cot a Cot’ 2012). The French Malbec was well-suited for the slight saltiness of the beef and bite of the greens.

Grapes and Soda: Sorrel sorbet, juniper, meringue, yogurt, wild honey

Don’t skimp on dessert: if you’re in luck to find the Sorrel sorbet with juniper, meringue, yogurt and wild honey offered on the menu, you won’t be disappointed. This light, leafy green imparts a citrusy, cooling taste to the dish, with gorgeous bites of meringue and creamy yogurt topped with fine strips of sorrel.

Grapes and Soda: The Green Collins: G'vine gin, lemon juice, soda, sorrel

Satoshi pairs this with The Green Collins, adding sorrel to the gin, lemon juice and soda concoction. Dessert and cocktail heaven!

Alongside the food and wine pairings, you can choose from assorted international reds, wines, roses, hand-crafted cocktails, craft beer (at present: Four Winds Pilsner), bourbon, single malts and digestifs. Rarely have we dined with such well-chosen wine pairings. Keep this in mind when you do come in.

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Located at 1541 West 6th Avenue between Fir and Granville Streets, Grapes & Soda is open from 5 to 11 pm from Wednesday through Sunday; between 5 and 6:30, food is half price.

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