The chef has about 30 years of cooking and returns from Vancouver Island, opening Impostori, an Italian restaurant.
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Impostori Trattoria and Negroni Bar

Where: 3121 Granville Street, Vancouver
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When: Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday.

Info: 604-606-0241; impostori.com

After 30-plus years of cooking, a chef could be ready to throw in the apron. In the case of Andrey Durbach, he’s jumped another hurdle and hit the ground running in Vancouver. Again. He’d severed his decades-long ties to the city in 2017, moved to Courtenay, and opened Il Falcone, an Italian restaurant.

Last year, another severance — his marriage ended.

“Never work with a spouse,” he said. “My ex-wife has it now. She bought me out.”

Durbach had moved to the Island to buy commercial property, laughable had he stayed in Vancouver.

“Sometimes things are for the better,” he says, weighing options.

He’s now running Impostori, a very friendly Italian neighbourhood restaurant in South Granville. Rise Eatery last operated out of there and shuttered because of the windstorm of challenges the last couple of years threw at them.

His chef and chef/owner career in a city includes Mark James restaurant, Wedgewood Hotel, Saltimbocca, Bishop’s Cafe de Paris, Moustache Cafe, Etoile, Lucy Mae Brown, Parkside, Pied-a-Terre, La Buca, The Abbey, The Sardine Can, Cafeteria and Sorella. Durbach cashed in on decades of customer and industry loyalties and eased back nicely at a time when you have to be nuts to open a restaurant.

There’s also that muscle memory from years of hurdle jumping  — like that doozy of a recession hurdle back in 2008. In the literal sense, for example, take his crispy half roast boneless chicken dish, ever-present on his menus. There’s no boneless chicken ranch and deboning chicken could be insanely labour-intensive but his muscle memory gets 10 chickens completely deboned in half an hour. Only thing is, he can’t hand it off to his cooks.

“I do it myself to save time,” he says.

His desserts are all served in glassware with a spoon. No fancy plate work or pastry chef required.

“They’re simple and delicious and ready to go,” he says.

Impostori is in a narrow modern room leading to a cozy patio in the back. Front of house staff are excellent. Our server Monica Acs worked at Bishop’s and I was so appreciative of her food and wine knowledge and lively conversation. Manager Simon Lucken was with Durbach at La Buca — still operated by his former partner — and was more recently at Le Crocodile.

The name Impostori suggests this is an Italian-ish restaurant but it’s Durbach’s impostor syndrome.

“It does give me licence to make some other food but at heart, I’m a nice Jewish boy from Winnipeg who doesn’t pretend to be Italian.”

He just loves cooking Italian.

The recent constipated supply chain has every chef crying the blues and for Durbach, it messes with why he loves Italian cuisine: “Simple food with good quality ingredients, not having to fuss or overly present things,” he says.

He’s scrambling to get consistent supplies.

“I tried four times to get clams. I’m on the phone a lot.”

The food is classic Italian with occasional outside influences.

“But don’t worry, there won’t be any peppermint or cranberries in the ossoc buco although there might be an Asian-inspired seafood crudo,” the website informs.

Menu items change more often than intended, thanks to that darn supply chain. Several of the dishes I tried were gone by the time I spoke to him.

“It’s damn near impossible to keep the menu updated,” he says.

Pastas can be ordered as an antipasti or primi, costing $20 and $30, respectively. Larger plates were $38 to $42 when I visited — $120 if you count the bistecca alla Fiorentina for two. Dishes are plated casually and you’re not likely to leave hungry — he hasn’t cut back on portions to tackle inflation; in fact, they would satisfy nonna.

The potato, Gorgonzola and caramelized onion tortellini ($20) was delicious. The sauce was thinner than I like and pooled on the plate instead of clinging tenaciously to the pasta. Still, delicious. The antipasti portion would have been a meal at other establishments. The handmade pastas — tortellini, pappardelle when I visited — are made by the lovely Marta Pan, who once operated Pan-O-Pan cafe and catering. She goes in to make the pastas and focaccia.

Beef carpaccio with horseradish aioli and fried capers ($19) was from top sirloin cap, in the South American picanha style; he sliced the carpaccio a little thicker than usual, upping the beefy flavour. With seven slices, it made for a substantial sharing plate. This dish might also be disappeared.

“I had it on the menu because my house-made bresaola was still curing,” Durbach says. 

Three kinds of beef, a special ($45), was hearty to the max with braised beef cheek, slow-cooked sirloin and beef stuffed pasta. Also on the plate, cubed root veg, green beans, polenta and a lovely red wine sauce. My husband, usually game to finish anything if delicious, could not. The beef quotient on the menu’s now been usurped by a “hefty 700-gram Angus rib-eye for two,” Durbach says.

My grilled ahi tuna with wasabi-lime butter, shrimp, shiitake and sweet corn risotto ($39) had a nice sear on the outside and a rare interior. The “Asian-inspired” bit appeared as ruby pearls of tobiko atop the tuna. Under it, some asparagus, carrots and corn risotto.  I would have liked a more clingy sauce on the tuna than the pool around the risotto.

The dessert menu offers four puddings in a glass, not exciting unless you’re a pudding super fan. But they are very good. We tried chocolate with whipped Nutella and Zuppa Inglese with cherries and amaretti.

It bills itself as a negroni bar and there are four variations of the popular cocktail along with a short list of other gin-based drinks. The wines lean heavily to Italian reds and some simple wines are offered ‘al quartin’ or by the quarter litre. There are also a few amari and grappas.

In the future the restaurant will offer a Happy Hour menu with smaller versions of existing dishes.

“If I could get one more cook with a pulse and opposable thumb, it would be offered now,” Durbach says. 

Diners are down-to-earth, the playlist’s likely to have  Frank Sinatra but if you’re looking for great steaks and pasta, you cannot go wrong at C Prime at Century Plaza Hotel. Chef Behshad Zolnasr, who joined about a year ago, has done stints at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London, Jean-Georges in New York and Mamma Angelina in Rome. Locally,  he’s worked at La Regalade and Ça Va in West Vancouver.

If the crab tortellini — with six ounces of Dungeness crab sitting in a crab cream sauce — is indicative of his way with pasta, then I’m in. I could not finish the half dozen knuckle sized tortellini. What a next-day lunch!  I’ve heard the wild boar ragu is another killer pasta.

As for the steak menu, it’s less pricey than a Yaletown steakhouse and features similar quality purveyors like P.E.I.’s Blue Dot, Idaho’s Snake River, and B.C.’s 63 Acre Farms and the unique Wisconsin Holstein dairy cow steaks. Dairy cows, unlike cattle, aren’t fattened at lightning speed on grains and slaughtered in a year or two.

Dairy cows produce milk for five or six years and feed on grass.

As the renowned American chef-owner Dan Barber of the two-Michelin star Blue Hill says, dairy cows have spent “five times longer roaming on pasture and developing intramuscular fat. When they’re weaned from milking, all of the energy that had previously gone into producing milk gets dispersed throughout the animal’s body. What you get is this super delicious and complex flavour you cannot find with conventional beef.” 

Zolnasr has a purchasing contract with one of the few such producers and yes, it’s a deliciously juicy and flavourful meat.

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