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Beest masters get to the meat of the matter

Newly opened Wildebeest already packing 'em in with nose-to-tail delights

The Hired Belly has a great admiration for newbies who hit the ground running. Take the case of recently unveiled Wildebeest, an unabashed homage to all things carnivorous across from SFU Woodward's.

To be fair, Wildebeest's owners are hardly neophytes. James Iranzad hails from successes such as Kitsilano's Abigail's Party, among others, while Josh Pape holds court at The Diamond, Gastown's most discreet liquid retreat.

Walk in and, aside from the sheer expanse of the place, you'll be struck by the fact it's already busy-and for good reason. There's serious protein happening here that's sure to appeal to the rapidly growing "nose to tail" movement re-embracing the likes of beef tongue and bone marrow.

The return to "down-toearth" eating-making use of the whole animal-comes on the heels of Jennifer McLagan's ground-breaking Odd Bits cookbook, which pronounced it past time for us to regain respect for everything from pig's ears to cockscombs.

Not that you'll find anything radical on Wildebeest's list, but it's still a flesh-lover's playground, as it slices through roasted organic beef tongue ($14), bone marrow with parsley and potato salad ($13), and applewood-smoked duck liver torchon ($18).

Our initial visit revealed a couple of keepers from this carnivorous kitchen in the capable hands of David Gunawan (ex-West). They include a 48-hour braised short rib with smoky salt and jus ($16), and an equally delicious pork jowl (cheek) with seasonal plums and bourbon-barrel maple syrup ($15). And the house-made, simmered cotechino (literally "pig skin") sausage, with flageolet cassoulet ($12) found us hankering for more.

While vegetarians probably shouldn't apply, non meat eaters are catered to by a clutch of seafood plates ranging from Dungeness crab to olive oil poached halibut and Steelhead trout.

The room is long and narrow, with imaginative use of original wood and tile, as well as naked bulb light fixtures made with fly-wheels salvaged from the recently demolished Pantages Theatre. The feel adds up to a cross between a speakeasy and an old-time butcher's shop, minus the sawdust.

Vancouverites are by now well-used to small plates. However, while not necessarily that small, most of these meat items are "stand alone" with minimal sauce or garnish, meaning it pays to heed server's recommendations as to which of the (still relatively few) protein dishes to pair.

Given the name, we were anticipating more exotic meats. But they'll come in time, says Iranzad, who's been busy putting the finishing touches to the equally expansive downstairs wine and cocktail bar, which should prove a popular party spot.

Wildebeest is a bold move. Our hunch is the timing is right, as some of these too-shunned tastes are terrific.

Wildebeest (120 West Hastings St.), open Tuesday to Sunday from 5 p.m., with a weekend brunch. For reservations, call 604-687-6880 or go to wildebeest.ca.

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Food cart lovers can breathe a sigh of relief. The Waldorf's immensely successful Food Cart Fest (Sundays 2-5 p.m.) is not yet ready to call it a day and runs through Sept. 30.

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