SALUT TO A CULINARY GEM
Celebrated for its genuinely wild cuisine, Exile Bistro created tapestries of eclectic greens, championed the art of foraging, led the industry in plant-based cocktails, and innovated an unwaveringly local menu.With dishes both created and cooked by Exile's founder and chartered herbalist Vanessa Bourget, dining was truly an adventure of elegance, flavour, and bountiful discovery: you could get a sense of each plate's deep ties to the earth the minute it was placed before you. Bourget is before her time: her class, charisma, and deep knowledge of French cuisine shine as she speaks about each ingredient and garnish. Bourget's concepts were so unique they could dazzle even the most practised of foodies, and by sourcing many of these unorthodox components from Indigenous foragers, Bourget's menu was bona fide sustainable. Sitting down for a chat in the cozy room that Bourget and her partner Sylvain spent three successful years delivering the finest service in the West End in, she describes their passion behind this type of wild sourcing. "Foraging or wild-crafting in your area is a really empowering way to get closer to your food source. The foods you'll find are also not something that you're going to get at your grocery store; they contain types of nutrition, flavours, and textures that you can't find anywhere else but from the wild." Bourget also notes how food affects us socio-ecologically,"With the proper education on how to forage responsibly and respectfully, it puts less stress on the big agribusiness system that is depleting the world's resources. If people could focus more on their own resources around them and harvest responsibly, they'll be more in touch with how eating affects their surroundings and our ecosystems." And for the fervently health conscious, Bourget adds: "They're just barely studying the tip of the iceberg on all of the different bioflavonoids, phytosterols, antioxidants, polysaccharides, and [other] components that are in wild plants." showcasing the reasoning behind what they were known for: medicinal foods composed into delectable plate art. Exile had an intimate nature that lent for good conversation. The bistro modeled after a traditional European eatery combined with organic vibrancy. The contrasting tones of dark rich wood used throughout, balanced well with complementing warm whites. The pyramid pendants echoed out onto the walls in diagonal lines through reveals, trims, and mirrors. The simplicity of the palette allowed the interior to become more of a backdrop for the food to punch away with colour.
Unfortunately, while the neighbourhood stuns with its quaint structural beauty and lush greenery, Exile Bistro's location was off the trodden path of typical Vancouver foodies. Restaurants like Exile are better equipped to survive in cheaper parts of town: further up Main street, or in more tourist-driven neighbourhoods like Gastown. Although it had an impressive run, Exile could no longer make economic sense in an increasingly expensive city where rent persists as a majorly oppressive force for entrepreneurs. This all too often denigrates artisan chefs and non-chain restaurants which is a huge loss for Pacific Northwest cuisine.Having shocked us with the news of its closure, one of Vancouver's best restaurants in over a decade, Exile Bistro will be profoundly missed. For now, we'll remain keen on the watch for Bourget's next move, with the hope that she'll be up to more plant-based creations in the near future.
 Foraged mustard greens and dandelion leaf salad with roasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, garnished with edible wildflowers  Nut-lentil paté, pickled veggies of squash, beet, and onion paired with flax crisps  Exile Bistro's founder and head chef Vanessa Bourget  Lemon custard dessert with buckwheat tart, spruce tip ice cream, and mint leaf garnish  Northern Heights cocktail: Alberta Springs rye, Yukon birch syrup, raw apple cider vinegar, tree oil mist, and spruce tip.