With a wide grin from Maitre d’ Frenchy at the Joe Fortes door, we knew we’d be well taken care of on our recent outing to one of Vancouver’s best-loved steak and seafood restaurants.
Joe Fortes Seafood and Chop House turns 30 next year, its name taken from Seraphin “Joe” Fortes, a Barbados-born sailor who arrived here in 1885 and became a popular figure in our city’s early culture. A competitive swimmer, Joe was appointed the city’s first official lifeguard at the turn of the 20th century, after teaching so many kids at the beach to swim. Before becoming a lifeguard, Joe was a bartender.
The historical theme continues throughout the restaurant, with photos of celebrities who’ve dined here gracing the second floor walls, including a special section devoted to Joe.
Once seated, we’re given a tall menu filled with seafood, steak, pasta, and salad offerings, together with an equally-impressive, award-winning wine list, boasting over 300 wines.
Choose your wine by reds, whites, rosés, interesting whites, interesting reds, Rieslings, champagnes & sparklings, Gewürtztraminers, Pinot & Gamay noirs, Merlot and blends, Italian reds, Zinfandels, Shiraz, Syrah & Rhône varietals, and Cabernet: Sauvignon, Franc & Blends. The whopping, double-sided wine menu will leave you spoiled for choice!
As well as wines, there are about two dozen malt whiskey sorts and classic cocktails to choose from.
A meal here wouldn’t be complete without a selection of oysters on the half shell—during Joe’s daily Appy Hour (4-6 pm), between 100 and 150 dozen oysters are shucked. We particularly enjoyed our selection of Shigoku (Washington State), Kusshi, and Beach (both Read Island) oysters, served with a trio of sauces. A special version of Joe’s ponzu sauce is slightly-spicy on the palate, containing a mix of lemon juice, soy sauce, fresh ginger, and a little Tabasco.
Our waiter brought over Joe’s famous lobster-infused oil and basalmic vinegar, drizzled onto a plate for dipping into warm bread; this marries well with a glass of Petaluma, CA-brewed Lagunitas IPA, its very hoppy taste cutting right into the lobster oil, for a rich-to-bitter palate toss.
Joe Fortes also uses the Vivreau water system, something I discovered three years ago at the company’s opening event in town. Vivreau is a sustainable water bottle solution that’s made the rounds globally, eliminating the need for bottled water consumption in both restaurants and businesses.
We ordered a half bottle ($43.50) of Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc for the table to go with both our seafood entrées.
Joe’s features a Sunday-to-Thursday three-course dinner for $38, a Creation of the Day (market price), and Trio of Fresh Fish ($41.95), alongside steak and chops, classics such as halibut and chips, and a seafood tower on ice (priced per tier), piled high with Atlantic lobster, crab, local oysters, poached jumbo prawns, scallop ceviche, smoked local Albacore tuna, clams, and mussels.
I chose Chef Wayne Sych’s creation of the day: Coho salmon topped with chopped lobster, smoked heirloom tomatoes, carrots, fresh greens, and lemon beurre blanc. The salmon was perfectly cooked and seasoned, made extra decadent with the chopped lobster and smoked tomatoes. Finely chopped zucchini and a few micro greens added nice texture to the flaky fish, while a squeeze of lemon elevated the sauce’s flavours.
My husband ordered the trio of fresh fish (on our visit: 3 oz. each of halibut and Sockeye salmon, with two jumbo prawns), great for seafood lovers who’d like to try a little of everything. While two of the three were paired with fresh greens, he particularly liked the mashed potato texture/seasoning choice, combined with those two large and succulent prawns.
The Sauvignon blanc was a great partner for both seafood dishes.
I’d like to particularly mention the service: The waitstaff anticipate needs; water was poured, extra glassware brought to our table before we asked—it was as if Johnny could read our minds!
As we’ve only had tiramisu here in the past, we decided to indulge our sweet tooth and order the Dessert Trio ($16.95) showcasing some of pastry chef Candace Mui’s delightful concoctions: Tahitian vanilla crème brûlée, tiramisu, molten center chocolate cake, brandied cherries, biscotti, and vanilla gelato, beautifully presented for us on a large, flat white dish.
The light, creamy brûlée with its hard-caramel top was divine, offering a fantastic contrast to its rich chocolate neighbour. The tiramisu portion was also a treat, enough to satisfy two people. A couple of gelato balls on the side are perfect for dipping the biscotti or tiramisu finger into—or that gorgeous molten chocolate cake. Between the tastes and the presentation, we were very happy to have saved just a wee bit of room to savour this!
In between bites, I enjoyed a cup of decaf Americano while my husband sipped a 2 oz. glass of Penfolds’ Grandfather Tawny Port ($14), with its lovely caramel aroma. This is one of 10 ports served at Joe Fortes; there are also vintage, late-bottle vintage, and a BC fortified port from Unsworth Vineyards on the menu.
Dessert wines, dessert drinks, and hot speciality coffees round out the post-entrée offerings.
We’d arrived at 5:30 for early dinner, with the bar packed for Appy Hour; an hour later, the entire dining room on both levels was filled with a wide range of clientele, from locals to cruise-ship tourists. I finally noticed (and heard) the piano player, tucked into the landing of a large curved staircase between the two levels.
The restaurant is a well-oiled machine and takes a dedicated staff to run successfully night after night (and in the daytime too, as they’re open for lunch and weekend brunch).
Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House is located at 777 Thurlow Street in Vancouver. Our meal was compliments of Joe Fortes, for the purpose of experiencing their current menu.