A Chat with James Iranzad…
After I wrote my piece on Supermarine (1685 Yew St., Vancouver, 604-739-4677) for the Courier, I thought it would be interesting to find out what’s behind James Iranzad and Josh Pape’s latest. By the time our conversation was over, I was keen to get back.
1. It’s a breath of fresh air.
James told me that even though Abigail’s (Kitchen) was still doing well, after ten years, they were looking for a new challenge.
“We thought Vancouver—despite being a West Coast city with all these species of seafood that we really love—didn’t really have the kind of seafood restaurant that we get excited about; the kind we enjoy when we travel.”
James reckons Vancouver has, essentially, two kinds of seafood restaurant.
“The ones that are specific like, say, sushi or oysters. They’re great. But we wanted to be a little bit more. And even though there are plenty of good seafood restaurants in Vancouver, we’ve been talking a lot about the ‘fetization’ of seafood and how we’d like to get away from that.”
“It gets a little boring, when you take a fish like, say halibut, and you put it on this pedestal—as if you can’t play with it creatively as you can other proteins. That bothers me. Why not?”
“The seafood options we have here in such abundance —they are delicious. But they’re also robust. They can really actually shine when they’re cooked creatively, in a cool way that we don’t hesitate to do with beef lamb, or pork. We just wanted to come up with a restaurant that took a local seafood (and some non-local) and made it a little bit more innovative but at the same time really accessible.”
2. It’s affordable …
James made some interesting comments about the wholesale cost of seafood.
“Value was another thing that we really wanted. A lot of seafood restaurants seem to justify exorbitant prices but seafood isn’t as expensive as people think it is. There’s a little bit of wool being pulled over the public’s eyes. We can put together a really good value menu that isn’t expensive. And our business doesn’t suffer for doing it that way either.”
When I asked him which dish best epitomizes what they’re trying to do, he came up with a few. But one stood out:
“The tempura Snow Crab ($25) is so popular I would have to pick that one. The crab is super abundant here; it’s sustainable, it’s delicious and the value is good. And it lends itself so well for such a delicate flesh. We give it a beautiful, light tempera batter; serve it with cool bok choy—and then the black pepper and honey glaze is so good.” Agreed!
Other items that you’ll find on the menu include Herring (starter, $14), Ivory—or White—Spring salmon (entrée $26), rarely seen Skate wings ($22) and ‘Red Bandit’ or Rock Cod ($28), which James suggests is underexposed in most restaurants other than Chinese.
3. They walk the sustainable talk
Supermarine likes to deal with smaller suppliers, especially for seafood, such as F.I.S.H. (Fresh Ideas Start Here). They like to work closely with the fishers.
“We deal more with local guys as opposed to the big conglomerates. And we’re only buying sustainable species,” says James.
“We’re also getting the entire company organized with Ocean Wise. Even though we’ve never bought anything but sustainable seafood at the other restaurants (Bufala and Wildebeest), we’re just now in the process of getting it certified. But every one of those items on the (Supermarine) menu is sustainable.”
When it comes to the wine list, it’s equally as original. James says he wanted to make sure that the selection was actually appropriate to the food, as opposed to having a ‘normal balance’ between white and red.”
“We wound up with a few selections of light to medium bodied reds that work. And that allows us to play with a larger selection of whites because we don’t really have ties to any particular region.”
In short, it’s a fun and interesting list that ranges from the likes of Brokenwood Semillon and Batasiolo Arneis, to Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner, Pewsey Vale Riesling, La Marimorena Albarino, and Tahbilk’s extraordinary ‘Museum Release’ 2008 Marsanne (reviewed, 92 pts). They also have a clutch of good rosés, such as Lebanon’s storied Chateau Musar, and the remarkable Chateau de l’Orgeril.
“These are really fun and exciting wines. I figured at a small restaurant like Supermarine, we could hopefully get our guests to trust us a little bit; and try a few new varietals they’re not familiar with.”
Co-owner Josh Pape also more than knows his way around a bar, so cocktails run the gamut.
“We love our cocktails: It’s something I thought was really lacking in Kitsilano,” says James.
I ended by asking him if he thought it was challenging to open a restaurant that’s not identified by specific national cuisine?
“I’m hoping that the fact we’re a (serious) seafood restaurant is more than enough,” he replied.
“There was a big void in Vancouver, in what is a pretty rich restaurant city in terms of its offerings. I think just doing cool seafood; having a great chef and being able to showcase the species that we bring in will be enough to get people excited. It’s working so far.”
See you there!
Supermarine, 1685 Yew St., Vancouver, 604-739-4677
Open Monday to Saturday, 5.30 p.m – 2 a.m.
More at supermarine.ca