Monday 23 January 2012

Review: Boneta Restaurant

So I can easily say that Boneta is one of my favourite restaurants and bars in Vancouver. Recently changing locations from the edge of Gastown to the heart of Gastown (as most good food and drink in Vancouver seems to be), the ambience is great. Walking on the Gastown brick into alleys and hidden doorways leading to fantastic cuisine and treasure troves of fantastic bartenders is part of what I feel is the Vancouver cocktail experience (see also L'Abbatoir, Pourhouse, and The Diamond). While the bar is small, it's well-worth the wait on a busy night for some of the best service and best cocktails I've had in my adventures. The lighting is perfect for imbibing some classics, the windows show you the old Vancouver brick, and like all my favourites, I feel classy here. I really think that's one of the keys to a great bar, along with excellent service, and of course cocktail quality (see again Pourhouse, and also The West).

Boneta was discovered in its original location ("discovered" for me, that is) by my brother while he was visiting from San Francisco. After taking him to Pourhouse he decided to grab some food and another drink (sadly, after I had left) and stopped at Boneta after eyeing the menu. He left raving about the food, the drink, and the service, so of course I had to come see it for myself. The first time I visited, I was impressed by the food, but even moreso by both the interesting cocktail menu and the great bartending service. I had the pleasure of meeting Jess Nichol, who made me not only some great Boneta originals, but also pulled out a hidden bottle of American rye for a finely made Sazerac. Jess passed away last summer, and Vancouver and its cocktail culture will miss him and his skill. I am very lucky to have had the pleasure of being served by him.

Each time I've visited Boneta since I've been even further impressed by the food, the drink, and moreso the service (particularly by Mathieu Faure, who has served us in some capacity each time we've visited). Aside from one bad experience with one bartender in particular, I feel the service has been above and beyond (including both my lady and I receiving sparkling wine on the house, delivered by Mathieu himself upon noticing us at the door, because of the wait we had to endure for a seat at the bar on a busy night).
The menu always has interesting modern cocktails both from Boneta itself, and from the best bars in the world, like Milk & Honey, Death & Co., Rickhouse, French 75, etc. All the drinks tend to be simple and classic in mindset, which is usually what catches more of my interest. This is not as much of a place to find crazy house-bitters or infused spirits, though they do have some interesting tea and fruit syrups in their originals. As creative as those practices are, I always find myself drawn to more classic tastes.
I have to thank Boneta in particular for serving me the only true Brooklyn cocktail I've ever had (because of the impossibility of finding Picon Amer anywhere near where I live). Mr. Faure had his father send some over from France, and I'm sure there are a lot of thankful people in Vancouver.

Some current libations that stand out for me are the Vested Bartender, featuring Beefeater gin, Cynar amaro, Maraschino liqueur, and Fernet Branca, and the Gastown Proud - a variation on a Perfect Manhattan - featuring Buffalo Trace bourbon, Martini Bianco, Punt e Mes, Maraschino liqueur, and Peychaud's bitters. Overall, what I've enjoyed the most here are the 'bartenders choice' cocktails, which have never disappointed and shown us some amazing drinks for the first time, like the aforementioned Brooklyn, and also the Trinidad Sour - which is still a completely insane cocktail you must try if you have the balls.
Speaking of balls, actually, I should mention that one visit, after a very long, cold, and wet walk around the city for a history of crime in Vancouver tour, my lady and I stopped in for a drink at Boneta. My lady asked for "something with balls," which prompted Mathieu to make her a Brooklyn with Buffalo Trace, and I'm not sure anything else would have suited the mood more perfectly. That is one of the most exciting things about going to a great bar - trusting the bartender's judgement based on your mood. Boneta is definitely a place you can trust in that respect.

If you ever find yourself in Gastown - and you better, because that's where most of our great food and drink is - I definitely recommend Boneta Restaurant, particularly if you feel like having a few drinks. Thank you to Mathieu and the late Jess for their great service and cocktails!

[[ Check out "The Vested Bartender" cocktail here ]]

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