I will admit I had a good chuckle when I initially read about Rob Feenie’s appointment as a “Food Concept Architect” for the Cactus Club chain. His punt from grace seemed complete – the tale of his dispute with the co-investor in his highly-praised Feenie’s and Lumiere restaurants provided much fodder for gourmand gossip, and after being forced out, his acceptance of a job that at the time seemed beneath him was surprising if not downright sad. I had visited Feenie’s for brunch last year, and though I wasn’t too impressed, probably couldn’t judge him too harshly without feasting on his supposed masterpieces being served next door at his signature Lumiere eatery. Last month, a review in the Globe & Mail started to pique my interest in his Cactus Club creations, in what the writer deemed to be Feenie’s renaissance, Lumiere-lite, if you will, in having to work with a finicky clientele interested in trendy food for a reasonable price, it seemed he was hitting it out of the park.
Though I was certain they didn’t take reservations, I called to make sure, and indeed, the new Cactus Club Bentall 5 (the only location thus far that serves Feenie’s signature dishes) seated only on a first come, first served basis. I asked what time I would have to be present to beat the rush on a Friday evening, and she advised me to show up at 4:30pm.
While Mack and I weren’t sure we could make such an early dinner time, we ended up there just before 5 after visiting the Vancouver Aquarium and Stanley Park. There was a wait for patio seating, but as we weren’t picky, we were led almost immediately to a cozy booth in an area situated between the kitchen and the bar, right in the thick of things.
The restaurant was grand, but not off-putting. Two levels of seating were graced with natural light that flowed through the floor-to-ceiling windows, accenting the sparkly newness of it all – the dark, leather-bound seats, a beautiful high-standing glass wine case, and a wide, spacious bar frequented by the label-adorned business class. The room was bustling, busy in a way that made diners feel self-congratulatory in their restaurant pick, and even more so when stumbling into the bathroom, which featured not only automatic taps and flush toilets, but a plastic-wrapped toilet seat that instantly revolved with “fresh” material at the touch of a button.
The menu, as expected, featured a mix of salads, burgers, and larger entrees very similar to what might be expected at Earls. Rob Feenie’s touches were not clearly marked, so we checked with the waitress, who pointed to the panko-breaded chicken breast salad and butternut squash ravioli ($16), as two examples. I couldn’t resist the ravioli, salivating at the mere idea of truffle oil, while Mack decided on a seafood pasta dish, the prawn and scallop spaghettini ($19). Having been on a slider kick the last few months, we also ordered the mini burgers ($11) to start.
Mack checking for wifi…and success!
While we waited for our first course, I sipped on a “better than sex” (their description, not mine) bellini, and Mack enjoyed a beer. When our burgers arrived, they looked so delectable that we were sad they didn’t serve them in fours. We quite liked them, though to be honest they were nothing special – simply scaled-down versions of a bar staple.
Our entrees, on the other hand, made the meal. The ravioli was exquisite (and Giada-esque) – aromatically infused with truffle oil, dotted with crumbled amaretti cookies and pine nuts, and filled with sweet pureed squash – it was like having a dessert course for dinner. Mack similarly liked his spaghettini, attractively presented with the noodles twirled and topped with a scallop and shrimp, he was pleased to find two more of each buried underneath. The food was also deceivingly filling, but not to the point where we were uncomfortably full.
Butternut Squash Ravioli
Prawn and Scallop Spaghettini
I can say without hesitation that our experience at Cactus Club Bentall 5 was a great one. And to Rob Feenie – I owe you an apology: if you ever decide to make a lateral move to Earls, I may be made a believer yet.
Cactus Club Bentall 5
588 Burrard Street