I’ve got to tell you, this is without a doubt, hands down, the absolute strangest restaurant I’ve ever been in. Even from the street, it requires a suspension of disbelief to even open the door and enter. In the winter, the windows are painted black so I can’t see in (or out). I’m standing on the street faced with a door that says “enter at the next door.” In the summertime they strip the windows so you can see inside which makes it a little easier to commit to entering. I open the grey door on the street and tumble into a rabbit hole so unlike any other space that I hardly know where to begin.
My waitress tells me that they’ve just redone the interior, and I get the feeling that they do this all the time, so the restaurant I will describe will probably have morphed into something else by the time you go there. Here’s what I see: blue leopard print padded benches, white tasselled pillows on the seats, red alligator print on the table cloth. Can you imagine the blue leopard with the red alligator? OK, throw in some tinfoil. I probably should have started my description with the tinfoil. Plastered up there on the walls, spread out, sometimes crinkly. I just stare at it, trying to figure out how I’m going to make anyone believe this. Is it tastefully done? Not really. But it’s hilarious in a non-offensive way. Hilarious and seriously unusual.
The restaurant space is a jumble of rooms off of rooms, long glitter streamers hanging in the doorways like 60s bamboo curtains, only these are made of tinsel. I’m taken into the back room, past the open kitchen which is two residential stoves, side by each, with a young guy cooking away in a happy kind of stoned way. The teenager who seats me sells me the special drink of the evening which is a daiquiri with raspberries (unremarkable) and later I have house red wine with dinner (also un-noteworthy).
I review the wine list which is written in glitter pen right on the blue cloudy walls. The room is lit with fig trees encircled with Christmas lights, a beaded lamp on each table. Mismatched silverware. There’s quirky lounge music playing overhead, French and English both. I’d honestly be afraid to bring most guests here I’d first have to assess if they were open-minded enough. Those fussy guests (“no green pepper please,” “no weird spices please”) should be left at home. My mother would just sit here with her mouth open like That Girl from Kansas. No, my mother wouldn’t have entered based solely on the exterior.
This restaurant is a place with many rules and it’s hard to see how it works as a concept. They serve one vegetarian/organic meal each night for dinner. I can order small, medium or large portions but I must finish all of the food on my plate. (You can perhaps understand why I suggest that the “I always pick the green peppers of out my food” people should stay away.) The waitress tells me that wasting food is a crime against humanity and if I don’t finish my meal I will have to donate $2 to charity and I forfeit the right to order dessert. If I order dessert and don’t finish it, I’m banished from ordering dessert again (or is it banished from the restaurant? I can’t remember). I order the small size because I’m not taking any chances. No prices are discussed but I later learn it’s a set price of about $14 regardless of the portion size.
My appetizer is corn chowder with coconut milk, potatoes, cilantro. I have one ladle-full in a huge bowl served with odd dry herb/tomato bread. The portion size is very small and the food is predictable, not special. There’s quite a long delay between the soup and the main course, just enough time for me to drain my wine - maybe that’s the intention. I’m served a tall jar of pickles and olives to go with my appetizer. The gherkins are fine, the olives taste terrible, the black ones especially, but I really don’t like olives so you should try them yourself.
My dinner tonight is a crêpe with beans and chick peas, heavy on the cilantro, with homemade fries and a ball of frozen sorbet served right on the dinner plate with all the rest of the food. I’m told to stir the cold sorbet into the sauce and to eat the hot and cold together. Who am I to refuse? I’m that Girl From Vancouver, I just do what I’m told.
OK. Here’s what I have to say, and it indicates a general bias: I find vegetarian food uninteresting, and the meal at Spirite doesn’t disappoint imagine a grand list of ingredients thrown in a blender, tossed with tomato sauce and white wine. It’s all the same. Same vegetarian meal, different day. But imagine that the flavours don’t meld and you can taste the cilantro, the wine, and the chick peas individually.
Based on the conversations I overhear with my waitress and other tables, she asks if you’ve been here before (hoping to save herself the long explanation of how things work). To the best of my knowledge, everyone in the restaurant is here for the first time, each listening to their own “food-crime-humanity” speech. There are no repeat eaters. The Spirite Lounge has a shtick and it must be working; the restaurant has existed for a long time. I wonder if it’s more of a spectacle rather than actually a place to eat. Perhaps it’s a statement. I just don’t know of what.
reviewed by Shelley MacDonald