A CULINARY JOURNEY THROUGH THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST
Top Chef Canada's "All Star" alumni, Chef Curtis Luk constructs distinctive dishes using his philosophy of nose-to-tail and root-to-tip cuisine in this award-winning Kitsilano dining room. Showcasing the abundance of the vast Pacific Northwest region, Luk offers both share-plate and tasting-menu options to lead guests on a mouthwatering adventure through the province's fields and oceans. With virtuosity, mastery, and flare, each seasonally-changing plate at Mission delights. The kitchen's novel and ingenious tastes are never simply following trends, but rather, are creating them.
Our initial infatuation with Luk's emotive dishes began after encountering his menu at Strathcona's bygone The Parker restaurant. As head chef, Luk elevated Vancouver's vegetarian scene from disheveled and inattentive to chic and dignified. A micro dining space with a single stove at the end of the bar, Luk served up dramatic plating and introduced the city to uncharted ingredients, flavours, and aromas. The star chef then seamlessly carried this talent over to Mission with extraordinary accomplishment. Capable of feats like turning soaked flax seeds into indelibly-seasoned, seductively-tasty, thin-as-paper crisps, Luk's ability to take difficult ingredients and turn them into a monsoon of flavour is consistently proven.
Not a vegetarian himself, at The Parker Luk was missing meat and wanted to offer a wider breadth of regional tastes and contribute to the spreading of awareness of all the graze-friendly, organic meats that BC has to offer. The notable chef explains to us on a recent visit that he felt it was also important to support the numerous sustainable fisheries around the Greater Vancouver Regional District. So when his previous kitchen on Union street closed, Mission in Kitsilano was Luk's inevitable venture into a more all-encompassing menu.
Service at Mission is remarkably high-caliber. With a multitude of dining experiences under our belt, our most recent visit to the West 4th restaurant was a decisive stand out: our server made sure we were aware of her presence between courses with esteem and grace. She walked the narrow line of excellence that often rarely occurs in this city's mushrooming restaurant landscape. With a simple nod or glance in her direction, she made sure we could receive her assistance, without hovering or interrupting at every bite: an extremely rare find in today's often too robotic, unmindful service.
In mid-July, Mission transitioned its focus from their distinctively and plausibly exclusionary 'table d'hôte' style tasting menu to a more liberal and inviting 'a la carte' menu. As seasoned gastronomists, we were always beyond thrilled to order either the herbivore or omnivore tasting menu from Mission's kitchen as it's an honour to be swept away by the story Luk and his sous-chefs are more than capable to tell. When Mission opened its doors two years ago, Luk initially wanted to express the bounty that BC has to offer in a format that tells a story—and a tasting menu tends to share that vision, writing its own unique script like a playwright for his audience.
However, the kitchen recognized that not all Vancouver restaurant-goers are ready to be taken away on a journey of the senses, and the team behind Mission experienced this insight materialize at the same time their own philosophies were adapting.
Luk explained how an a la carte menu allows the kitchen to express a much broader range of what's available in BC, especially during the bountiful summer and fall seasons. With more dishes, patrons can now pick and choose for a better introduction to Mission's carte du jour and create their own unique stories. But for those of us who are willing to blindly trust the all-star staff, the tasting menu happily still stands.
Along Vancouver's bustling 4th Avenue, you might not notice the small storefront to Mission Restaurant. It is nestled between Maple and Cypress streets and isn't the easiest to spot when driving through Kitsilano. However, if you've walked by on foot then you've surely spotted their large goat graphic, which is pretty hard to miss from the street view. The restaurant is unassuming and therefore inviting; it also doesn't have the hectic craze of a Gastown wait.
There's a playful and warm welcome to Mission. As you enter, the lightweight wooden pendants float overhead with a soft glow. Cute outline graphics of menu provisions are pressed onto slatted wooden panels. It’s an intimate environment as they only have 60 seats and small table settings. The expansive rounded arches on the ceilings are complimented with starry glass orbs hanging down. Mission's team recently refurbished their dining tables by sanding the black paint off and exposing the warmth of the wood underneath, making a notable difference. The chairs give the space a modern, fun element. Yet, we’re not in favour of the yellow trim to the underside of the railing as it does not tie into other parts of the design, but possibly we missed this design reference. We are also thankful for their fantastic selection in tableware which displays each course with distinction—and was great for taking photographs!
Previously serving as the tavern August Jack, the space was more enclosed with grey walls, darker furniture and a black fireplace. Mission retains its cavernous body, but Karly Duncan from Karly Kristina Designs covered both the walls and the ceilings with white in order to lighten the space. So even though you step down into the room, the nook has a feeling that remains more cozy than oubliette.
The bathrooms are superb in their design's fearlessness of bringing the wall-covering up onto the ceiling. With optimum lighting, you are left flattered, but still able to do your makeup in the mirror. You can fathom how closely Mission sticks to their mandate of remaining sustainable and local because their washrooms provide Saje soap!
On our latest visit, Chase MacLeod, Mission's part-owner escorts us to our airy, open-window seat and stays to chat a bit about the menu's transition. He explains how everything that enters Mission's door is local and fresh: the kitchen receives their produce "the day of" and preps accordingly. MacLeod, who is also the Sommelier behind Mission's quintessential pairing menu, explains that the tasting menu was limited because it only offered one or two proteins. He echoes Luk's excitement for a family-style, share-plate themed menu that now allows room for more meat endeavours.
Touching on how Mission's nose-to-tail philosophy is still on display with the a la carte menu, MacLeod explains further: "Our halibut is served on the bone and our platters feature the whole duck—which comes out in a couple different portions. We utilize the leg for course one, and the crown for course two."
MacLeod notes that in Vancouver, and particularly in Kitsilano, there are so many associations with tasting menus and fine-dining. "People think white table cloths, out of range prices, and stuffy rooms." With Mission, they wanted to bring a casual, welcoming space to the Kits neighbourhood, and to begin breaking down the barrier between Vancouverites and their ability to access sustainable, regional, yet sublime fare. We think they have certainly accomplished that feat.
Mission lives up to its name, the restaurateurs are ambitious in turning over their new space, sticking to an ever-evolving menu, providing impeccable cuisine, and delivering only the best service. You can leave with a satiated adieu!