Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar is regarded as one of the best seafood restaurants in the Pacific Northwest.
Not only does the restaurant continually uphold its reputation of delivering on cuisine described as a ‘celebration of seafood representing both East and West’, but it also brings a modern focus to local and sustainable seafood. As a founding member of The Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program, Blue Water Cafe has won the respect of diners and critics alike, earning the restaurant numerous awards since 2000.
Located in the heart of vibrant and historic Yaletown, at the northwest corner of Hamilton and Helmcken Street, Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar is nestled inside of a brick and large-wooden beamed building, where the interiors are brimming with charm and authenticity. A little-known fact is that the bricks used in the building came to Vancouver as ballast on ships and the massive old-growth columns and beams in the restaurant are over a century old.
The entry to Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar leads to the main bar, and to its left, sits the Raw Bar where a team of sushi chefs craft beautifully prepared culinary works of art. A seat at either bar offers at least a sideways view of the entire main room and the grill section of the open kitchen with Executive Chef Frank Pabst at the helm. Adjacent to this open dining room, several intimate private dining spaces are available for group events and celebrations.
The main dining area is dimly-lit to set the mood for intimate conversations for small parties. Larger round tables feature beautiful glass artwork to anchor the decorative elements in the room. The intention is to provide a space where patrons can enjoy the restaurant’s award-winning wine selection with some of the freshest seafood on the west coast.
EXECUTIVE CHEF FRANK PABST
His trademark cooking ethic is to ‘complexity without complication’. Chef Pabst brings a wealth of experience and a disciplined cooking technique to the team and has enjoyed positions in Michelin-starred restaurants throughout Germany and France, including La Becasse (Aachen), the Hotel Negresco (Cannes) and Restaurant de Bacon (Antibes).
Since 2003, Executive Chef Frank Pabst has been leading the brigade at Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar to create Pacific Northwest dishes using the West Coast’s abundant harvest of fresh seafood. Chef Pabst has been recognized by numerous publications for his leadership in the industry with the recent accolade of Where Vancouver’s 2019 Leadership Award, the induction into the BC Restaurant Hall of Fame in 2010, and the title of Chef of the Year by Vancouver Magazine’s Restaurant Awards in 2008.
He is a strong supporter of ocean sustainability practices and created the Unsung Heroes menu to aid in the restaurant’s sustainability efforts.
The creations for the Unsung Heroes menu are atypical, whimsical and imaginative, with past appearances such as a Sea Urchin ‘Hot Dog’, Herring ‘Poke’, Jellyfish ‘Kimchi’, Octopus ‘Bolognese’, Sturgeon Liver ‘Pate’, Sea Cucumber ‘Congee’, and Smelt ‘Tacos’.
With this creative approach, t’s no wonder that loyal guests and even local chefs look forward to the Unsung Heroes promotion each February.
In addition to the a la carte menu that is the foundation for Blue Water Cafe, the restaurant also offers a changing feature menu showcasing between 10 to 15 seasonal dishes. From the Raw Bar, feature items could include Sawagani - tiny, live Japanese River Crab served fried, an Alaskan King Crab sushi roll with miso mustard, or even Gindara Sablefish Sashimi that comes from the restaurant’s own sustainable sablefish farm in Kyuquot Sound.
On the main kitchen side, the restaurant features such dishes as an Organic Heirloom Tomato and Vegetable Salad with Greek Feta Cheese, Matsutake Mushroom Risotto with Barrel Aged Tosa Soy, Johnstone Strait Halibut with Braised Lobster Mushrooms and Corn Fritters, or Grilled Whole Sea Bass with Fennel Pollen and Broccolini, Sablefish Roast with Snap Peas in Black Truffle Miso, or Japanese A5 Wagyu Rib Eye. There is always a rotating selection of fresh oysters delivered daily from the team’s trusted oyster farmers.
On our visit, we had the pleasure of tasting the Sushi Platter, Seafood Tasting for Two, and the Johnstone Strait Halibut dishes to indulge ourselves in the Blue Water Cafe dining experience on the restaurant’s outdoor patio.
This option is definitely for those who love fresh sashimi. The sushi platter allows you to indulge in a spectrum of flavours. On the platter you have Hamachi, Red Tuna, Scallop, Sockeye Salmon, Albacore Tuna, Mediterranean Sea Bass, Spot Prawn, Dungeness Crab Claw, and Salmon Egg (Ikura). We recommend experiencing this dish by beginning with the fish that have a lighter flavour, and gradually making your way up to the Ikura, where the flavour is more concentrated and unctuous.
To go with this starter course, Wine Director William Mulholland recommends J.L. Vergnon "conversation" Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Champagne.
SEAFOOD TASTING FOR TWO
The Seafood Tasting for Two consists of four mini dishes, each featuring a different seafood ingredient. The four plates include Dungeness Crab and Baby Shrimps, Scallop Ceviche, Albacore Tuna Tartare, and Smoked Sockeye Salmon Terrine.
Our favourite from this quad of tasting dishes would be the Albacore Tuna Tartare served on deep fried nori. The dungeness crab bites are also light and refreshing, with a minimal use of sauce and seasoning to maintain the focus on the freshness of the ingredients. We savoured the Salmon Terrine’s firm texture to pair each bite with the recommended wine pairing for this course, which was the Weszeli Steingarten Gruner Veltliner from Kemptal, Austria. The Sommelier described this wine as “a great match for all the components of the BC Seafood Tasting for two. Acidity and freshness match the tension of the citrus and herbs in the ceviche. Good minerality and a touch of vegetal notes balance the nori in the tuna tartare, great texture for the crab salad and more great minerality to pair with the smoked salmon. Higher elevation vineyards for this Gruner help maintain the minerality and acidity and make the wine a refreshing match.”
JOHNSTONE STRAIT HALIBUT
The Johnstone Strait Halibut is served with braised lobster mushrooms, savoury summer pappardelle, charred green onion, purple blaze carrots, and Anise Hyssop flowers; needless to say, this dish carries with it a vibrant vibe with the integration of such colourful ingredients. The savoury pappardelle also balances the lightness of the halibut, making the dish a hearty dinner option.
Chef Pabst shared the raw ingredients with us on a separate plate to showcase the different elements that go into the preparation of the dish, highlighting the extensive thought process behind the creation of a single dish. How will the colours, flavours, and textures come together to present a unified experience for the customer?
WHERE EAST MEETS WEST
At Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar, you have the option of experiencing seafood as a sashimi platter or prepared in the grill kitchen, two entirely different culinary experiences that are united under one roof. The consistent factor between these offerings is the sustainability and freshness of the seafood and Chef Pabst’s skillful interpretation of seasonal ingredients to delight each of his guests.
A visit to Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar is a treat for yourself and your guests, as you can rest assured that you will enjoy a revered Pacific Northwest menu paired with some of the finest wines found in the city.