The Hired Belly: Wagon Rouge packed, the Roof stacked

Circle the Wagon

A word of advice: If you want to eat at Bistro Wagon Rouge (and, believe me, you do), get there early, like before 6 p.m. The re-purposed dockside diner (a French nod to Red Wagon, which owner Brad Miller also runs) is hopping from opening onwards.

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It’s unavoidably friendly and  it’s cramped — so cramped, in fact, that the servers can barely get around. But nobody seems to worry, least of all the clientele, who know a good thing when they see it and make good use of the proximity to share their recommendations.

If the Hired Belly lived near this changing stretch of the East Side, next door to  Port Metro Vancouver’s jealously guarded fiefdom, I’d be in for my weekly fix of addictive chicken liver parfait and a pint of Powell Street Dive Bomb Porter.

The parfait comes with plenty of toast and a pot of caramelized onions ($6). And the beer comes from across the street, yet another reason to come back.

The menu is no-nonsense, hearty French fare, with the likes of simply prepared cassoulet, steak frîtes, bouillabaisse, braised lamb shepherd’s pie and plenty more. Miller (whose previous gigs include Bistro Pastis and now shuttered Au Petit Chavignol) knows his way around the classics and generally keeps it simple but with a few inventive twists  such as beef heart tartare and beef cheeks boeuf Bourguignon.

Main course prices rarely break the $20 mark, with most items much less. The only blip was a tootie-fruity Rive droite, rive gauche Cotes du Rhone, which I wouldn’t rush to order again.

Never mind. All was forgiven with a trio of desserts, led by delicious financiers with lashings of almond slices.

Bistro Wagon Rouge, 1869 Powell St., 604-251-4070.

Raise the Roof

Everything old is new again... Back in the day, Howe Street’s movers and shakers would happily wrap up their deals at where else but the Roof, on the 15th floor of Hotel Vancouver. Chances are there might have been the odd martini involved. However, with the decline in rooftop dining, like so many other elevated hotel adventures, the Roof eventually met its demise and for years has sat semi-mothballed. Now, with the closing of Griffins and remodeling under way on the main floor, the upstairs one-time iconic venue has been called back into temporary service, sunken martini bar and all.

Following a tasteful update, the Roof was to play host to its next generation of guests on Valentine’s Day, but the official opening day has been delayed. Look for a blend of classics and contemporary cuisine along the lines of a “grill room” says executive chef Cameron Ballendine. On the menu: oysters, French onion soup, tempura morels, herbed lamb chops, and the long-running signature prime rib and Yorkshire pudding.

Olympic feast

Work up your patriotic appetite for Edible Canada’s second annual Festival Under the Bridge, Feb. 14 to 16, which organizers are hoping will be Vancouver’s biggest Olympic party since 2010. Edible Canada House (which is part of Winterruption) includes food stations featuring Canadian faves such as bison chili, maple flapjacks and beef brisket, washed down with Granville Island beer, local wines and so on. More details and tix at

Belly’s Best

Haywire Pink Bub 2012.  A seductive little sparkler with cherry notes wrapped in a green apple personality, before a crisp, clean finish. Think fresh shucked oysters and a splash of raspberry vinaigrette! $24.90 90 pts.


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