DEER + ALMOND
Address: 85 Princess St.
Deer + almond’s understated, bare bones aesthetic is a sharp and comfortable contrast to its refined and revelatory vision. This tenacious, chef-driven restaurant is home to aptly executed, adventurous and consistent plates that have impressed us since its opening. Casually clad staff convey to guests a sense of belonging from a warm greeting at the door to impassioned menu knowledge and pro service. To sum up the restaurant of the year in a single phrase: expect to be surprised.
From its outset, this minimalist 65-seat Exchange District eatery has earned a healthy reputation for being a hospitable hipster haunt. What’s more, it’s a bona fide palate-expanding playhouse, a tribute to Chef Mandel Hitzer’s creative cooking. Imagine, for instance, the moment of unadulterated joy when a cast iron lid is removed, releasing tendrils of cedar smoke that curl and rise. What follows is indulgent tossing back of smoky Village Bay oysters bathed in sweet-tart cranberry mignonette.
A second rendition of the menu designed for sharing nods to Asian, French and Italian cuisines. Old favourites, like fatty pork belly morsels balanced by astringent pineapple with sweet and smoky plum sauce, still hang about.
Blonde wood, oversized globe filament bulbs and striking local art by Kenneth Lavallee and Takashi Iwasaki create a cozy, mod space.
Half of the restaurant’s namesake is well represented inside with many rustic nods to noble deer. Venison is a newer offering. The wild meat is exquisitely tender, easily yielding to the knife and releasing gamey juices. An accompanying tower of thrice-fried fries possess splendid fluffy centres.
On weekends, the chalkboard is chock-full of scrawled specials, each more tempting than the last. One such offering, sous-vide B.C. trout, is the best dish we ate. The impressive fish is transcendently tender with a slight char, artfully arranged between a braised onion latke and intricate cucumber lattice. Horseradish cream unifies the components and pops of briny roe punctuate each bite.
The signature filthy dirty pie, speaks volumes about Hitzer’s approach; delicious with fun-loving delivery. A riff on childhood mud pies, gummy worms surprise within layers of dark chocolate mousse and white chocolate vanilla panna cotta beneath cookie crumb dirt.
Count on deer + almond for well-conceived food that is a little bit daring and intensely exciting.