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Cactus Club Yaletown – Vancouver

May 23rd, 2009 · No Comments

Cactus Club Vancouver Cactus Club Vancouver Cactus Club Vancouver
Saturday night in Yaletown. Hungry and met up with the brother for a bite. He works in Yaletown, we wanted to go to a place with people in it where we could have some food and see the crowd. He suggested the Cactus Club and off we went.

I’ve been to the Cactus Club(s) in Vancouver many, many times before. I’d even been to this one twice before. And always, their food is tasty, the service fast and efficient, the restaurants are full of young people seeing and being seen, and the places manage to straddle the line between Bar and Restaurant, much like their competition in Vancouver, Earl’s, Joey’s, and Milestone’s. But now that Rob Feenie is their ‘food architect’, the place needs to be checked out again to see if there’s been an improvement.

Well….yes and no.

The food dishes on the Feenie menu are definitely taken up a notch in terms of quality, but my friends, this isn’t Lumiere, or even Feenie’s. (Feenie’s old restaurants). I’ll get back to the food in a minute.


The Cactus Club waitstaff are almost always young, attractive women wearing tight black clothes – if that’s your reason to go to these restaurants, I can certainly suggest some other blogs that might be more useful than one on being a bon vivant (the young women in tight cocktail dresses aren’t usually interested in people wearing monocles and top hats). And (not but), these young women usually provide excellent, friendly service, and the food arrives quickly. For whatever reason, the server who waited on us on this Saturday night at the CC Yaletown was not on her game, and wasn’t actually even friendly, but the food arrived as ordered, on time, and there were no mistakes on the bill. I’d expect this at a noodle restaurant at 4am, but not at 8pm on a Saturday night at a Cactus Club.

The decor is usually interesting, but I’m sure that interior designers have a better word for it – something like “men’s-club-meets-fancy-hair-salon”, with the dark wood paneling accented by things like pop art and intricate chandeliers. Mies was not involved in the decorating – these places definitely fall into the “More is more” category. The restaurants are comfortable, and with the music and omnipresent crowds, there’s usually a good ‘vibe’ to the restaurants of beautiful young people, out for a meal, some drinks, and maybe a night on the town. And yes, it’s infectious – usually after a meal here I want to order a lineup of Jaegermeister shots and see where the evening goes – thankfully I can (usually) restrain myself now.

As for the food, I will give the Cactus Club restaurants huge points for consistency – they all have the same menu (more or less), and a pizza ordered at Cactus Club A tastes exactly the same as a pizza ordered at Cactus Club B. I’ve had quite a few things from the ‘Feenie Signatures’ menu, and while no doubt they tasted delicious in the experiemental kitchen, sometimes something gets lost a bit in execution. Tonight I had the rocket salad – “panko and parmesan breaded chicken, baby arugula, vine ripened tomatoes, cucumber, lemon caper sauce”. And, yes, the salad part of things was delicious – crisp, perfect, fresh arugula, with its peppery, bitter wonderfulness, perfectly dressed – Mr. Feenie could serve that at any of his restaurants with pride.

But the chicken that came underneath it? Yes, amazingly tender. But it tasted very strongly of old oil. Panko and parmesan breading? A combination that is usually delicious together, but either the oil was old, or it was too cold when it went in, or something happened and instead of having that dry-cooked goodness that oil-cooking can impart to things like the finest tempura, this piece of chicken was soggy and greasy. How bad? I didn’t finish it. ’nuff said.

Now I don’t know if this is some problem with the dish itself, where it never really ‘worked’ – RF was in his lab going, “I don’t know what’s wrong here…but forget it, it’s going on the menu anyway” (which I doubt) or whether, as I suspect, something just got lost in the execution.

And obviously, ‘executing’ on numerous dishes, on a busy saturday night, over numerous restaurants, is at best, a tremendously difficult task. But this blog is about great things, not middle-of-the-road things, and I’m afraid that it’s the latter category that this dish gets put into. It soared into greatness territory with the arugula, then, like the small, flightless bird it was, crashed down to the middle of the road. (wow. too much coffee this morning).

Okay – so I’m trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, you say – what is a bon vivant doing at the Cactus Club, in Yaletown (a district better known for tattoos, spray tans, and fancy t-shirts than its food), on a Saturday night? Well, my friends – the amazing part of this world is that you never know when you’ll find excellence. If the dish I had this night was just an arugula salad without the chicken, this would have been a glowing (albeit limited – hey, it’s leaves in oil) review. You should never blind yourself to finding excellence in food by the fact the restaurant is dirty, looks run-down, or the fact the meal costs $2 – try street food in Saigon and you’ll see what I mean. Nor should you blind yourself to terrible food just because you’re at a high-end place with a good reputation – I’ve had lousy meals that would have been a month’s worth of food in Saigon.

So – I guess the bottom line here is: no big surprises at the Cactus Club. Really, you’re going for the atmosphere and safety of reliably reasonably tasty food, or beer, or whatever reason – but not really for the excellence. You can safely check the top hat at the door and leave the monocle at home.

(and sorry the pictures above are so lousy – i only had my phone with me and its camera is terrible in low light)

Cactus Club Yaletown
357 Davie Street
Vancouver, BC
Tel: 604.685.8070

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Cactus Club Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tags: cocktails · Vancouver · Western Food

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