How many of you have been to Joe Fortes? It’s considered a Vancouver institution of sorts, having been open for 27 years now, and last week we finally went for a meal. Maybe it’s that we’ve become accustomed to visiting so many new places around the city, that some of the long-standing spots like Joe’s have slipped past our radar? Not sure.
It is in a location that we generally avoid to be completely honest (just off Robson on Thurlow), mainly due to the volume of people it attracts. It can be a little touristy, but honestly more and more we’re starting to love eating out in the Robson area, with some nice options available for lunch or dinner.
It’s usually quite busy at Joe Fortes, so it never hurts to make a reservation. We made ours for 5:30 on a Friday evening, and when we arrived their patio was already in full-swing. Neil, the restaurant’s bar manager, Scott the GM, and Frenchy the Maitre d’ each made us feel right at home in the covered outdoor space, and took some time to explain the company’s philosophy around people and food.
Maintaining its reputation as “Vancouver’s Best Oyster Bar”, Joe Fortes is a San Francisco styled seafood grill where locals and visitors alike come to enjoy the freshest seafood and chops in town, complemented by an award-winning wine list that boasts over 300 wines, and a uniquely personal level of service and hospitality.
Since this was our first visit to Joe Fortes, we opted to stay on track with seafood dishes — mainly since we are at a Seafood and Chop House restaurant, and it’s obviously what they’re famous for. The night included a selection of some of the restaurant’s best-selling dishes, and we chose dishes that were recommended to us by our awesome server Peter.
The King Crab Tempura had smoked bacon, fresno chilie and sweet soy. The dish was quite satisfying, with juicy thick pieces of King crab in each bite. The outer layer of tempura batter was slightly crunchier than we would have liked, but regardless this appetizer was devoured by both of us. The only thing we really wished was there were a few more pieces on the plate!
Since we were at Joe Fortes, we knew we had to order Oysters. Our tray included two pieces from each area available to them that day. The restaurant has an amazing selection on their menu, but keep in mind they only have what’s freshest on hand, and it depends on the availability of the season.
Our favourites of the night were of the Sawmill Bay, Malpeque and the Kumamoto variety. As you can see from the photo above, our platter included some large, some small, and some definitely saltier than others (seemingly the standouts for us) — but they all tasted equally fresh and tasty, and went down no problem with a splash of Tobasco, spicy horseradish and a squirt of lemon.
Even though neither of us really loves oysters (Adrian in particular is a little funny about them), we both loved these. If you go to Joe Fortes, you must order Oysters — Food Gays rule.
Up next was the Caramelized Jumbo Scallops and Truffle and Parmesan Fries. The scallops were amazing — very well seasoned, and cooked to perfection. They were huge and meaty too, and this image totally does them justice. Objects are as large as they appear!
The Truffle and Parmesan Fries were good too, but we went a little easy on them to save room for the main and dessert, so we couldn’t finish them all as the portion size is pretty massive.
Joe Fortes is well known for their wide selection of fresh catch entrees, with the Miso Marinated Sablefish being at the top of the list for popularity. Practically everyone we spoke with mentioned it that evening, so we knew we just had to try this one out. Buttery Sablefish cooked to perfection, along with baby bok choy, mushrooms, ginger scallion butter served on top of jasmine rice. This dish was simple and delicious, and could likely make a fish fan out of anyone.
Last but never least, dessert. We opted for The Dessert Trio, consisting of Molten Chocolate Cake, Tiramisu, Tahitian Vanilla Crème brûlée, brandied cherries, vanilla gelato and a biscotti — all of which are made in house. The stand out in this dish was the Tiramisu which was nicely baked with a lovely delicate flavour, and the Creme Brulee was like velvety and rich, with a perfect crunchy top we both enjoyed knocking open with our spoons. *Crack!*
But the Winner of the entire evening was likely the Fresh Berry Pavlova, hands down. Made with crisp meringue, fresh seasonal fruit, custard and whip cream, this dish was a total knock-out. It offered a perfect tartness from the berries, and the raspberries inside the meringue were so luscious it made both of us weep a little.
A huge thanks to Peter our server for insisting we have it — we’re totally believers now. It doesn’t matter how full you are, you’ve got room for Pavlova.
The atmosphere at Joe Fortes is energetic and lively, with a real “boys club” feeling to the establishment. By the time we left, the place was packed with people, and looked like it was running like a well oiled machine. With both of us having worked in hospitality and customer service for so long, it’s always great to see businesses like these who have such a keen eye towards the finer details, and you can tell when you’re inside the place how much effort must go into keeping it that way.
At Joe Fortes, hospitality and freshness are their number one priority. It’s something a lot of restaurants strive for, but when you’re here you can see that every staff member is attentive and on board, with expeditors and bus boys all part of the mix. We loved that old-school vibe it had, and noticed what a genuinely good time other tables around us were having during their meals. At one point everyone started pulling out their cameras and iPhones, and Peter went by each table and graciously took photos.
It might not be something everyone cares about when they go out — but Vancouver is a city full of restaurants, cafés, food trucks and holes-in-the-wall to spend your hard earned money on something decent to eat. A lot of them don’t last, and those who do tend to lack when it comes to keeping up quality control. Joe Fortes on the other hand have managed to stay above the curb, and while it may have been our first time dining here, we’ll definitely be back again soon.
XX – The Food Gays
Disclaimer: We were invited to review this restaurant, however all opinions are 100% ours.