Hy Aisenstat opened his first restaurant, in downtown Calgary, in 1955. Success in the early days was in large part driven by his never-flagging hospitality—something his three sons, Neil, John, and David Aisenstat, have lived up to as well. The first Vancouver location, opened when the whole family moved west and long since closed, was Hy’s at the Sands in the West End. Hy’s Encore opened in 1962, and though it was renamed Hy’s Vancouver after 50 years, it remains busy and loved to this day and beyond. An extensive, careful renovation of the upstairs event space into a new lounge and dining room has proven an instant success, guests elbow-to-elbow at the bar. Neil Aisenstat, who is now president and CEO, can frequently be found here, always regaling this or that guest with a hello and another story. All of which makes the delicious cocktails go down even easier.
Downstairs in the dining room, it is business as usual, though as Aisenstat explains, “We keep certain things exactly the way they have always been, but there is constant evolution, taking new trends into account, understanding there is more to it than steaks and baked potatoes.” He smiles and adds, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But customers are so much more savvy, and knowledgeable, than they were 10 years ago.” The tableside service in making the famous Ceasar salad is still in place, complete with the portions of crushed garlic and anchovy shown beforehand, to ensure you get the ratio you desire. And you can have your bananas Foster flambéed while you watch, as well. “We spend a lot of time and resources developing new dishes, seasonal dishes, and sourcing the very best ingredients has never been better,” says Aisenstat. “But never more competitive in our industry, either.” That is most acutely true for the high-quality beef, for which Hy’s is justifiably famous. Competition from other restaurants means “it is getting increasingly difficult to find the quality of beef we require,” he says. “We only use Canada Prime beef, which accounts for just around one per cent of the entire beef production in this country. And we now have a Black Angus steak, either 20-ounce or 32-ounce, sourced from the Black Apron Beef Company.” It is the ultimate expression of tender, fulsomely-flavoured steak: a result of the animals being raised and fed outdoors, on high hilltop grasslands, and certainly with no hormones or antibiotics. Everything is hand-cut in-house, and dry-aged a minimum of 28 days. There is even a Premium Black Angus barley-fed bone-in rib-eye, available in 20-ounce and 32-ounce options.
The escargot, crab cakes, and French onion soup continue to please. There are good choices for the mains, including Steak Neptune, Muscovy duck breast, and rack of lamb. The steaks, the main event, really cover all the bases, from a bone-in New York strip, through the porterhouse and filet mignon, and onto the bone-in rib-eyes.
A classic steakhouse is actually quite an elusive creature, with many imitators and pretenders strewn across the path. Dry-aging for more than three weeks is a crucial factor; at the higher levels, a steakhouse has to provide an inherently conservative, comfortable atmosphere, with the servers most likely to have been on staff for lengths measured by decades, not years. All the sides and the wine list remain in service to the plate, which is nearly covered in its entirety by a slab of unbelievably tender, bursting-at-the-seams-in-flavour Canada Prime beef steak. The garnish? One solitary sprig of parsley. That’s Hy’s.
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