Story by Adrian Brijbassi
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Ricardo Valverde wanted this new gig of his. He had been the No. 2 chef in the kitchen at Blue Water Cafe and Raw Bar in Vancouver’s Yaletown neighbourhood for years and it was time to grow. When the new owners of one of the best spots in the city were on the look for an executive chef, Valverde went after the role with gusto.
“As soon as I heard about it, I knew that was my job,” says Valverde, a chef with Peruvian heritage who promises to bring the cuisine of his homeland to Vancouver’s fine-dining scene. “It’s seafood, but it’s also a chance to be much more.”
Valverde knows crab cakes and fries will still be menu favourites but one of his goals for the restaurant that opened in September is for much more interesting fare. It’s exciting to think we might have authentic Peruvian mole dishes to enjoy in a room overlooking False Creek. That’s to come in the future, along with possible appearances from some of Peru’s acclaimed chefs, Valverde says.
For now, the ceviches will be “just like you will find in Peru.”
Formerly C Restaurant, Ancora takes over one of the rooms in Vancouver that’s been adored by diners. Under Robert Clark, C rose to prominence as a place for high-quality, sustainable seafood. Valverde arrives from a similar pedigree at Blue Water.
“I wanted to come to a place where I know quality food was the most important thing. There are a lot of places where they spend on the front of the house rather than in the kitchen, where they care about volume first. I had to make sure I would be able to cook the food I wanted and that’s why I’m here,” says the chef who was hired by the Viaggio Hospitality Group.
Valverde’s hopes are high. He wants Ancora to be named Vancouver’s No. 1 new restaurant and then it’s best restaurant overall and then even the best in Canada. “It might take five to 10 years to get there. But yes that’s what I want. Why not?”
Based on the meal I had at Ancora last week, Valverde is on the right track. The Ancora Glacier Platter will quickly be a favourite for Vancouverites and visitors to the city. It features a range of seafood — including bluefin tuna from the east coast, British Columbia mussels with a Peruvian escabeche, poached prawns, oysters, crab causa (a Peruvian dish made with potatoes) and ceviches — served on an elevated tray rather than a tower that can dominate the table and make it difficult to reach the portions at the top. It’s an elegant touch and not as cliche as the traditional seafood tower.
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Ancora (the Spanish word for “anchor”) also benefits from the talents of sushi chef Yoshi Tabo, whose impressive culinary skill lifts the restaurant toward the top of Vancouver’s raw bar options. But neither the seafood platter nor the raw bar are the main reason why I will return to Ancora and soon.
Peruvian cuisine has been underrepresented in Vancouver (and the rest of Canada, for that matter), even though the culinary scene in the South American nation has been among the most celebrated in the world in recent years. Valverde fills that void superbly, blending his knowledge of British Columbia seafood and his Canadian sensibilities with the spices, textures and flavours of his ethnicity.
The pan-seared halibut from Haida Gwaii was served with a paella made with forbidden rice and served with grilled baby squid, Peruvian corn, asparagus and another Latin touch, pimenton emulsion. The flavour balance was brilliant, with the spices complementing the fish on the plate, never dominating it. It’s that skill with spices that defines great ethnic cuisine and what will excite food connoisseurs about Valverde’s dishes.
In a room teeming with sunlight and gorgeous white decor, diners will stare out to the waters of False Creek while the peppery flavours hit the back of the tongue. In that moment, you may feel you’ve briefly been delivered south of the equator, a wonderful gift that great food such as this can bring to you.
More About Ancora Dining
Address: 1600 Howe Street, Vancouver, BC (see map below)
Menu Price Range: Dinner entrees range from $29-$38. Sushi orders range from $3.50-$18.50. Full menu is here.
You Must Order: The Ancora Glacier is a decadent seafood platter that showcases local and Canadian seafood as well as Valverde’s Peruvian touch ($72 for two people; $132 for four people).