The busy restaurant district in Yaletown in Vancouver has been slowly shaking back to life, and with that some new and exciting openings are being announced. Most recently, a plant-based restaurant, Nightshade, has opened an elegant dining room and released an eclectic and inventive menu likely to cause excitement among those looking for high-class dining as well as the local vegan population.
The brainchild of executive chef Chanthy Yen, who is also the personal chef for the Trudeaus, Nightshade features dishes inspired by a variety of Asian and European traditions. Instead of adhering to any particular regional cuisine, the through line of the plant-based menu means the best ingredients were selected to forefront flavour while avoiding animal products.
Catering to vegans and non-vegans alike, the menu, which was also created with sustainable food practices in mind, features dishes from Southeast Asia, Japan, India, and elsewhere. The restaurant itself has a well-articulated dining room, wine bar, and a speakeasy-style tasting room in the back, a phone-free zone. The runners have plans to add a patio come spring.
Working through the menu, the mix of dishes and sometimes obscure ingredients means advice from the wait staff is essential. From the dinner menu, we start with the crispy cassava. The South American root is perfectly crisp and swims in a combination of sauces that seems odd at first—a mint sauce with spicy red curry aioli—but turns out to be an ideal complement to the starchy cassava. The menu surprises throughout. In Vancouver, it’s unusual for great sushi to be sought outside of the premier, traditional joints spread famously through the city, but the Nightshade roll, with roasted eggplant, avocado, cucumber, and crispy onion, combines the classic feel and flavours of sushi with rich vegetarian ingredients.
The flexible menu manages somehow to offer almost all gluten-free options, but we try two dishes that fall outside of this. The grilled mushroom on toast is a decadent and savoury pile of local mushrooms on delicious housemade focaccia that rests on a bed of mushroom pâté whose richness rivals the best foie gras. For those feeling less adventurous but still wanting an interesting mix of flavours, the turmeric agnolotti tossed in fermented chili arrabiata offers a gentle yet slightly spicy fusion of east and west.
The cocktail menu is just as adventurous but definitely plays second fiddle to the food. Some of the spices, like the house vindaloo, don’t quite land as garnish, but the Angkor Say Wat?—a concoction of Flor de Caña 7, Ginger of the Indies, tapioca syrup, and mango purée instantly transports you out of chilly Vancouver into equatorial bliss.
For dessert, we try the vegan crème brûlée. Slightly more runny than the classic, the lavender vegan custard is creamy and sweet in that rich way the dish is famous for, while the raspberry hibiscus coulis and candied hazelnuts add an inventive touch that runs through most of the menu.