Baru Quinoa salad, Tim Pawsey photo

Our review of Baru Latino in last week’s Courier has a pretty upbeat tone to it. That’s maybe not surprising, considering the occasion was a birthday party with family and friends. But there’s more to this piece than meets the eye. First impressions are everything. Isn’t that how the saying goes? Or something like that. But we can’t tell you how many times we’ve been to a restaurant over the years and made to wait, hanging around the reception area until someone bothers to take notice. And, often as not, it can happen at the meal’s end, in reverse. You know the feeling: once you’ve paid the bill, no-one really seems to care—unless you make a point a point of saying goodbye as you leave.

One notable exception over the past year happened at Vancouver’s Cardero’s, where I’d just had lunch. As we walked out, without fail, every single staff member we encountered said “Thank you, “Goodbye,” Have a nice day,” or “Come again.” And you know what? We would, in a shot.

Baru Latino canoe, Tim Pawsey photo

The canoe makes for a really cool decor, Tim Pawsey

 All that’s by way of saying that when our party of seven showed up (anonymously, following a last minute reso) at Baru Latino, we were welcomed with open arms. And the service (as you’ll read) was wickedly good, funny too. From beginning to end. And, yes, we’ll also be back there.

Enduring Baru Latino spices up West Side

Vancouver tends to subscribe to the flavour of the month club. Dining is driven by trends, some, such as tapas or small plates, more lasting than others. Restaurants come and go, while others endure, such as Baru Latino (2535 Alma St., 604-222-9171), an unlikely taste of South America tucked away in the leafy West Side enclave that is Broadway and Alma.

Baru is one of those rooms that clicks from the moment you walk in, mainly because it’s busy, thanks to its rep for interesting plates at fair prices-and upbeat service that doesn’t miss a trick. Menus are explained, orders cajoled and jokes tossed with witty abandon. We can count the restaurants that boast this kind of repartee on one hand.

On the plate, the choice is extensive. And it pays to check out the daily features. Our Ensalada de Verano (Summer salad) arrived as a tasty assemblage of corn, black beans and quinoa tangled with red onions, cilantro and avocado, perked up with freshly squeezed lime juice and smartly presented in a corn tortilla shell. A generous serving, even more so for $8. Load on some chorizo or seared chili-rubbed tuna for a few dollars more, and you’re set.

The abundant Baru ceviche, well stocked with fresh halibut and shrimp, with lemon and avocado, tomatoes and onions is another winner ($10)-one of a series of plates that shout out summer. We were also impressed by the fiery chilli prawns ($10), not to mention a wealth of other small plates.

Paella is a mainstay. Ours arrived packed with fresh ingredients, though the size of our group may have caused the plate to sit under heat lamps for too long and the shellfish shrink-more our fault than the kitchen’s. The rice was nicely cooked, and we enjoyed the smoky house salsa with flatbread. It was another worthy, flavour-packed plate at $20.

Also high on the list of our table’s faves (along with a guava-grilled pork chop, $20) was the house specialty, Cartagenacrusted halibut, which sees fresh halibut crusted with plantain, topped with a haystack of diced yams and served with grilled asparagus and roasted tomatoes glazed with soy ($20).

The wine list, which tips towards Argentina and Chile is fairly priced, and includes Nederburg’s crisp, citrus and mineral-toned Riesling.

The room, wrapped in cozy shades of red, sports intriguing features, including the original, striking namesake canoe, and other marine features.

Lively, affordable and taste-driven, Baru continues to draw a loyal clientele by riding the waves between trends.

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Kudos to Maenam executive chef Angus An, who heads, at least for the part of the time to New York City, where he’ll lend his Thai expertise to SoHo’s Kittichai restaurant. The New York hotspot came looking for the chef to enhance their menu with a balance of flavours from Maenam, as well as his previous restaurant, Gastropod. Turning the pans while he’s out of town will be Mike Tuangkitkun, says An, who adds he’ll be heading to New York “about eight times a year to showcase the diversity of modern Thai cuisine, and a taste of what Vancouver’s culinary scene has to offer the world.”

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Belly’s Best

Tantalus Riesling 2011

Proving that the LEED certified winery (with its own colony of bees) is much more than just a pretty place, this latest Riesling has it all: up front apple, lime and mineral notes, with more mouthfeel and texture, vibrant, juicy acidity and a lengthy, clean finish. Another winner, for sure. $22.90 90 points.