April 6, 2018

Food Front: Modern classics on the half shell

Coquille Fine Seafood offers both style and substance in a vintage location

By  Joanne Sasvari

It might just be the most desirable location in town: 4,000 sexy square feet in a vintage 1912 heritage building on Gastown’s Maple Tree Square. Previously home to the fashion-forward Secret Location, this gorgeous space is now the flirtatious new Coquille Fine Seafood.
And it might just be the restaurant we’ve all been waiting for. At long last, Vancouver is getting the good-value seafood restaurants it’s been missing for so long (Wild Tale, Hook Seabar), but Coquille has upped the game even further. It’s found the perfect niche where comfort meets luxury, style and affordability.
“Coquille is a modern fish house. We try to use fresh and local seafood and shellfish as much as possible, while also sourcing other delicious fish and shellfish from nearby,” says chef and co-owner Jack Chen. “We play around with the classics and tweak traditional seafood dishes with modern flavours and techniques. That said, we have some standbys on the menu like our prawn cocktail and steak Oscar—with these perennial favourites, there ain’t too much to change.”
Chen may be familiar to you from his role as opening sous chef at L’Abattoir, which earned a top-three spot on enRoute’s best new restaurants list in 2011. Or you may know him from Farmer’s Apprentice or Royal Dinette, where he also earned buckets of accolades. Recently, he’s been back at L’Abattoir working with chef Lee Cooper, and Coquille is their latest project together. Expect serious consideration for these guys come awards season.
The first thing to note is that the high-fashion concept of Secret Location is gone—there’s not a ceramic bowtie in sight—and that the room is busy and buzzy.
“We haven’t touched the bones of the building, but we’ve changed a lot esthetically,” Chen says. Designer David Hepworth of SITU Design transformed the historic building into a multi-levelled space with distinct bar, lounge and dining areas. It’s intended to be equally inviting for tourists, families, foodies and a fine-dining crowd alike.
“The space now has a dark oceanic feel when you step inside, but it’s also light and inviting, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows and plush seating,” Chen says. “There are a few nautical elements throughout the room—scallop floor tiles, brass light fixtures, soft pink shell-like velvet booths—without it being over the top.”
Most of all, it’s a cosy place to settle in for deliciously all-new-again oceanic fare: warm crab dip, a seafood platter (featuring rarities like sea urchin, geoduck and razor clams), glazed Petrale sole, skate meunière, steak Oscar and luxurious lobster Thermidor.
With food like that, this is one location that will be a secret no longer.

Coquille Fine Seafood is located at 1 Water St., coquillefineseafood.com.

Recipe:
Lobster Thermidor
This luxuriously updated classic comes from Jack Chen, chef and co-owner of Coquille Fine Seafood in Gastown.
Serves 2

1 lobster (1.5 to 1.75 lb)
½ cup (125 mL) grated Gruyère cheese, or to taste
½ cup (125 mL) panko crumbs, or to taste

Thermidor Mayonnaise:
2 cups (500 mL) full-fat mayonnaise
1 Tbsp (15 mL) Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp (15 mL) mustard powder
1 egg yolk
2 tsp (10 mL) brandy
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 Tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 tsp (5 mL) paprika
1 tsp (5 mL) Tabasco sauce
Pinch each of salt, pepper and Old Bay spice

Make the mayonnaise by stirring all the ingredients together. Cover and chill until ready to use.
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Drop lobster into the pot, cover with a lid and steam lobster for about 10 minutes. Remove lobster from pot and chill on ice until completely cool.
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
Carefully cut lobster in half, reserving the lobster shell. Break the claws and extract meat from claws, tail and legs (a rolling pin works well with the tiny legs).
Cut meat into 1-inch pieces. Dress lobster meat with mayonnaise, making sure the meat is very well coated. Put the meat back into the shell halves and smooth it down so it is flat and even on top. Sprinkle lobster with panko crumbs and grated Gruyère.
Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until the top is golden brown and the lobster meat is hot. Serve with lemon wedge.

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