When Pat Allan and Jeff Park started dreaming of opening up a fine dining restaurant in Squamish, they had one major question: was the little mountain city ready for a high-end eatery?
Looking around the duo’s brand new restaurant on official opening night, the answer would have to be a resounding yes. The small space that is The Salted Vine Kitchen + Bar, located in Squamish’s downtown core just off the Sea to Sky, is full of couples and groups taking seats in the cozy booths and high-top tables. The bar, with a glossy white tile backsplash, is lined with excited patrons, as well, and dish after dish flies out of the kitchen with ease. This doesn’t look like their first rodeo.
In fact, Allan (Salted Vine’s restaurant director and sommelier) and Park (the restaurant’s executive chef) met while working at Whistler’s celebrated Araxi. Cutting their teeth and perfecting their skills at one of British Columbia’s best, the men seem to have had a seamless transition into restaurant ownership. “This has been a dream of mine for quite some time, and Jeff’s, too,” Allan says to a small group of assembled guests. He is beaming, clearly excited, but also cool as a cucumber, never missing a beat or letting a wine glass go empty. “We try to be as local as possible,” Allan explains; they do import fine wine and cheese, but source as much from the Sea to Sky region and Lower Mainland as they can. Allan mentions some wooden serving platters that were made a mere four kilometres away at Raven Timberworks, and ceramic plates that were crafted by artisan Sandra Hutchison within five. The art on the walls was done by a friend in Whistler, and they have some pigs growing specially for them at a farm up in Pemberton. “If we’re talking about community,” Allan says, “we have to walk the walk.”
As for the food itself, it is fresh, wholesome, delicious. A meal that begins with kusshi oysters (Ocean Wise, of course) and the house Sweet and Sour cocktail sets the tone; soon there is scallop crudo with prosciutto, fennel, aji Amarillo, apple puree, and cucumber, plus beets with burrata, granola, greens, and citrus, all paired with a 2014 Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio from Trentino, Italy. Then comes the main course of hearty and juicy dishes such as merguez sausage with couscous, sultana raisins, tomato fondue, and arugula; grilled flat iron waygu beef with smoked sea salt and chimichurri; and grilled octopus with zucchini, eggplant, peppers, lotus root, and gochujang, along with a 2014 Pasico Bush Vine Monastrell Shiraz from Jumilla, Spain. Everything is well plated and well prepared, with an offering that is accessible, un-frivolous, and memorable. The menu is designed to be shared, a dining concept that Allan says is “more intimate” and interactive.
For dessert a tangy lemon tart will do, or for those savoury fans, an assorted plate of cheese including Mahon from Spain and Moonstruck Baby Blue from Salt Spring Island. There are 70 seats inside and an additional 20 on the patio, and the modest size makes the space seem friendly, approachable. The restaurant has clearly already become a place for the locals, as indicated by someone celebrating a birthday and Allan’s warm wishes as they depart at the end of the night. Salted Vine represents a turning point for Squamish—a place that many Lower Mainlanders are settling down in for its lower cost of living and close proximity to adventure—and surely a sign of changing times. It will still have wildlife murals on the sides of dollar stores and budget hotels with light-up signs that say “free” and sushi restaurants that are aptly named Sushi, but it will also have higher-end culinary ventures, and people categorically nodding that there is indeed room for everyone.