It is rare a meal feels truly cohesive. Even in some of the world’s nicer restaurants, jarring digressions can interrupt the progression of the food and wine. That’s why it’s so impressive that Bar Susu, the new pop-up wine bar/restaurant venture from the team at Published, which has set up shop in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, displays remarkable culinary cohesion, even when it doesn’t quite have a defined cuisine or style.
Occupying the former home of the Whip, a much-loved neighbourhood bar, Bar Susu takes full advantage of the moody interior of the 109-year-old building. The shallow but wide side-street address, with its picture windows and cantilevered second level, makes for a stark chiaroscuro between the exposed and recessed seating. But the European-bistro decor feels more Brussels than Bogart, while the hand-thrown tableware grounds the dishes in the Pacific Northwest.
But trying to associate the food with a specific locale would be a tall order. The thoughtfully curated menu from chefs Ashley Kurtz (Novella) and Gus Stieffenhoffer-Brandson (Published on Main) is an experiment in culinary border-crossing. For example, Spanish, French, and German cuisine comes together in the bright, acidic mussels escabeche tartine, which is garnished with a dapple of sauerkraut and a light zhuzh of white butter sauce.
Other potent culinary interactions occur thanks to the chefs’ willingness to whimsically mix, high with low. Playing with the bog-standard haute cuisine impulse to force a roasted beet, goat cheese, and nut salad onto every menu, the pickled beet salad layers paper-thin beet noodles over a herbaceous circle of Boursin cheese. Similarly, the duck liver parfait gestures toward the elevated doughnut craze of the late aughts and early 2010s (bacon bits on doughnuts, and so on), subtituting the honey cruller base as a delivery system for the mousse-like duck liver served with quince jam and candied peanuts. The hashbrowns served with “mc’chicken” sauce is the most playful dish we tasted. It seems all low and no high, but the chefs’ deft reverse-engineering of the sauce harkens nostalgically to either childhood or a night out at the bars.
Brittany Hoorne, formerly of East Vancouver’s Dachi, leads Bar Susu’s wine program, a natural-leaning but atypical one unafraid to introduce patrons to unique flavours and pairings. Hoorne admits the duck liver parfait would commonly be paired with bubbly, but she pours us each a glass of Ruben Diaz’ La Sorpresa, a rancio garnacha, a wine with sherry-like qualities akin to the sweet-savouriness of the cruller it is paired with. Hoorne is also unafraid of including an abundance of B.C. wines on the Bar Susu list, not the least of which is the almost milky orange (primarily) gewürztraminer made by her partner, Alex Thornley of Thorn & Burrow.
In a quiet moment of reflection at the end of our meal, when we’re picking at the crumbs of the rustic quince sticky toffee pudding and sipping our digestifs, there is time to contemplate the wonder of a meal unbound by cuisine and style. The sun is fully down, the low candlelight throws happy shadows across the whitewashed walls, and a subtle murmur of contentedness has settled over the entire room. At that moment, Bar Susu felt like what cohesive dining is, or should endeavour to be: intimate, fun, halcyon.