Well, this is sad: Refuel closes; Top Chef Canada contestant takes over space. Refuel, formerly Fuel, one of my favorite Vancouver dining destinations is closing its doors. Owners Tom Doughty and Rob Belcham will no doubt remain as busy as ever what with two of their other restaurants, Campagnolo and Campagnolo Roma, doing brisk business and another Asian barbecue-themed restaurant, Fat Dragon, set to open soon. And, from what I hear, the staff will remain employed, moving to one of their other aforementioned eateries. Still, it is dispiriting to know that one more long-familiar element of my life will soon be no more.
Back when it was Fuel, I was there two, sometimes three times a week, dining with my ex, my fellow Stargate producer Martin Gero, or, occasionally, solo at the bar seating where I could chat with Tom, Rob, or Chef Ted and watch the open kitchen at work. To be fair, this was at a point in my life when I was dining out all the time – and, by “all the time”, I mean “all the time”. The only days I ate at home were when we ordered in. Unfortunately, high end dining took a hit with the recession and, as a result, the restaurant was rebranded, transformed into Refuel – more casual yet committed to the same quality ingredients. Some dishes remained on the menu (including the outstanding confit crispy duck) joining notable additions like the buttermilk-fried chicken, and the establishment continued to host special events like their annual snout to tail whole hog dinners, offering everything from crispy pig ears with salsa verde to succulent roast temple. I continued to frequent the place, though not as much as I used to, mainly as a response to the changes in my life and a desire to start cooking at home more (apparently, when they closed the books on Fuel, the reservation history revealed I had, in fact, been their #1 customer), but the food and service remained consistently great. In fact, under Chef Jane Cornborough’s stewardship, it became one of Akemi’s favorite restaurants in the city.
I had many truly memorable dinners at both Fuel and Refuel which, not so coincidentally, served as the site for most of my annual chocolate parties. And so, today, I’d like to rundown my Top 16 Most Memorable Meals at Fuel/Refuel. This list may not be complete however as the restaurant’s doors remain open until March 24th. That’s ten more days to try their lemon risotto with albacore tuna tartare, dry-aged beef burger, crispy confit duck, peanut & chocolate parfait, and many other dishes! There’s still time!
16) December 11, 2011: Dinner at Refuel! – A reunion dinner with Martin Gero, Robert Cooper, and Jewel Staite.
15) July 13, 2007 – One of the first of many casual lunches – and casual conversations with owners Tom and Rob.
14) December 22, 2007 – An early Christmas dinner with mom and sis. And I sample my very first crispy confit duck.
13) April 2, 2008: Fans Feeling Fuelish – The very first Fuel Fan Dinner!
12) October 28, 2010: Refuel’s Annual Whole Hog Dinner! – Akemi’s first Whole Hog Dinner.
11) June 20, 2009: Just Like Old Times! – My former culinary wingman, Marty G., comes back into town – and the gang at Fuel are ready for him!
10) August 18, 2007 – I take Carl Binder for his first (birthday) dinner at Fuel – and discover their unbelievable corn soup!
9) April 18, 2010: The Greatest Chocolate Party Ever! – My last annual chocolate party (with the SGU gang in attendance).
8) April 26, 2009: The Best Chocolate Party Ever! – My second annual chocolate party (with the SGU cast).
7) October 21, 2007 – I return for the second day of Fuel’s first Whole Hog Dinner – and they end up creating a whole new menu for me.
6) October 18, 2007 – Martin Gero and his buddy Kurt join me in my first Whole Hog Dinner!
5) January 7, 2007 – My first meal at Fuel, five days after its opening.
4) March 26, 2010: Whole Confit Pig Head Alert! Avert Your Eyes! – My friend Denise and I sit down to whole confit pig head.
3) October 17, 2008: Birthday Dinner Rundown, Links, and Reminders – Chef Rob and co. serve me up a special birthday dinner.