The Foundations of a Good Restaurant
By: Russell Ball
Sunday, November 27th, 2005
** (of four stars)
I’ve been longing to dine at Foundation for months since I heard about it – one of the few very vegan-friendly restaurants in Vancouver. I finally got the chance after spending a long afternoon at Metrotown, and my wife and I stopped at Main Street on the way home. It was about 7pm on a Saturday and when we got there it was packed. Every table was full, but it is a small establishment. Foundation has about 15 tables, and can probably hold 45-50 people, which is small compared to many large chain restaurants. We were willing to wait however, and were seated within a reasonable time, although I noticed the shorthanded wait staff (1 server and 1 busboy) could barely stop serving food so they could clean off empty tables.
The dining room is separated from the kitchen by a low concrete block wall – reminiscent of a foundation no doubt – and we had a good view of the organized chaos within. The appliances are old and the pots are well-used, but the staff seems very capable and can surely make do with what they have: I doubt anyone’s getting rich from the profits. I say that in part due to their very moderate prices, which I imagine a large number of regulars appreciate. This is the kind of restaurant some people might call a “hole-in-the-wall”, but with fondness. The diner-style tables and mismatched furniture is functional, and I can’t decide if the minimal lighting is for ambience or to save on expenses! As it was, we had only one candle for lighting, sufficient for dining, but not for any photos I’m afraid.
Foundation is funkily decorated with art and large politically-driven quotations on the walls – the staff and owners apparently don’t shy away from displaying their left-wing attitudes, which is fine by me as I share many of them. Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising element of décor are the restroom doors: anatomically-correct illustrations of genitalia leave no doubt as to which room is to be used by whom. The restrooms themselves are…quaint: one of the stalls in the men’s room has a large sign on the wall saying “No toilet paper in here” just so you are warned before entering. The walls are covered in graffiti, and have a few moderate holes in them, but the room still felt relatively clean so I wasn’t perturbed.
The short but creative menu includes 6 appetizers as well as soup, chili, and nachos; 5 salads, 12 entrees, and selected desserts such as fondue, pies, and carrot cake. Also available are limited hard liquors, local beers (Storm Brewing, Granville Island), some imports (e.g. Heineken), 3 white wines, 3 red wines, and Sangria. All menu prices include tax, for those like me who love nice round numbers.
We settled on a round of Heineken’s to sip while deciding what to eat, which can take a while simply due to the fact that the menu is so entertaining to read. After a few false starts we ended up with appetizers only, given that I’d already made many dishes similar to the available entrees in the recent past. I ordered “A Katered Affair” ($11) which includes smaller portions of a few other appetizers: Insurgent Humus, Mingling Yam Dip, Molten Tofu, Serial Salad, and mixed greens. My wife was seduced by the Utopian Nachos (Small $7) plus a side of guacamole ($2).
Despite the near-frantic movements of the sole server, our food made it to the table in a reasonable time. The nachos were served on a monstrous platter, with generous sides of salsa and sour cream in addition to the aforementioned guacamole. I can’t imagine what the large order looks like, nor where they can find a larger platter to hold it. My Katered Affair was presented on a similar smaller platter, but I immediately noticed that the tofu (with accompanying broccoli) and black bean sauce was served ON the now-soggy flatbread I had planned on using for the humus and yam dip. Oddly, I also received a pile of tortilla chips I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. Fortunately we had the salsa and guacamole, but I don’t know what the kitchen staff normally intends one to do – dip them in humus perhaps?
Although the nachos are obviously not vegan, my wife enjoyed them thoroughly without my assistance. She had to pick off a few of the hot peppers, but anyone who enjoys peppers would definitely appreciate their presence. The chips and cheese were well-layered and coverage was excellent. We were starved, but I think she sincerely loved the entire dish, which is fortunate given my displeasure with the Katered Affair. To be brief, the humus was too citrusy and not garlicky enough, the “molten” tofu was not spicy at all, and the yam dip was bland and even worse, cold! In my opinion the yam dip cried out for flavour, and I think curry would be an excellent choice, but at the very least don’t serve it ice cold. The Serial Salad was an interesting concoction of seeds, grains, fruit, and sesame sauce. It ostensibly included chick peas as well but I only found one. I wouldn’t say there was anything wrong with it, but I wouldn’t order it again because I didn’t really enjoy the sweetness. The nachos were definitely the winner of the evening. I’m glad I ordered the Katered Affair though as it enabled me to sample far more appetizers at one time than I could if ordered individually.
Foundation has a lot of potential and I plan on making a return visit to try out the entrees now that I have moved past the appetizers. The restaurant has great ambiance for those hippy-types who frequent Vancouver, but I noticed the clientele was varied and included young couples with children, older diners, and moderately-sized groups (I think there was even a birthday party present). For now, I’m pleased to have enjoyed a varied and entertaining meal for a great price – only $31 before tip. I’ll be sure to provide an update after my next visit in which I delve more deeply into the promising menu.
Russell Ball is a hard-working employee of the Ministry of Children and Family Development. He is an accomplished amateur vegan chef, but still tries to leave his kitchen for outside cooking once in a while.