– Words by Joanne Peters Photography by Lia Crowe
Oysters on the half shell, snow crab, giant prawns, silky sablefish, divers’ scallops, king salmon sushi, ahi tuna tartare and freshly harvested uni (sea urchin, a seasonal local delicacy): these are just some of menu items at Coast. To dine here is to take a deep dive into coastal culture.
Step past the outdoor patio aglow with glass-encased fireplaces into the Alberni Street restaurant, and you’ll see the seafood and oyster bar in the centre of an O-shaped bar, a dedicated sushi bar, and the eye-catching open kitchen. The room itself dazzles, with shimmery hanging décor resembling sun-dappled ocean ripples and wall art that evokes seas of swimming golden fish.
For chef Stefan Hartmann, culinary director of Glowbal Restaurant Group (of which Coast is one of nine dining establishments), the exquisite flavours of so much ocean bounty are alluring—even after three decades working in professional kitchens, including time spent running his own Michelin-starred restaurant in his native Germany.
“Something that really excites me is when you open a case of fresh fish and see and smell this beautiful product—you’re like, ‘wow,’” Stefan says. “It still inspires me.”
Born in Uelzen, Stefan grew up in a small town called Rendsburg, north of Hamburg near the Danish border. As a child, he spent summer vacations with his uncle, a chef who ran a countryside inn.
“He used to make chocolate truffles with me when I was nine years old,” Stefan says. “His stories from the kitchen inspired me to follow in his footsteps.”
Stefan gained experience working for acclaimed chefs in some of Europe’s top restaurants, including Michelin-rated Vau in Berlin and Jacques Maximin in Vence, France before opening the award-winning Hartmanns in Berlin in 2007. He went on to open Berlin’s Marriott Hotel before moving to Vancouver in late 2014 to launch the now-defunct Bauhaus Restaurant. Prior to joining Glowbal Restaurant Group, he was regional executive chef at Tacofino and freelanced during the pandemic.
While he brought with him to Canada the world’s very highest culinary standards, Stefan says no matter where he’s cooking, the elemental principles are the same.
“At the end of the day, your work ethic is your work ethic, whether you have a Michelin star or not,” Hartmann says. “If you’re making French fries in a burger shop or making a soufflé in a Michelin-star restaurant, you have to handle it the same way. You need to be persistent. Disciplined. Willing to learn. I’m still learning. When you’re always striving for the best, you can still find mistakes in your work to get better.”
Specializing in fresh, seasonal seafood, Coast’s menu highlights are always changing; daily specials and chef’s oyster selections are recommended. Among Stefan’s personal favourites, however, is the restaurant’s succulent sablefish, marinated in white miso and served with maitake mushroom, baby bok choy and garlic purée. Seafood towers take the dining experience to the next level, with items like scallop ceviche, mussels, clams, snow crab, Atlantic lobster, giant prawns, oysters, sashimi and nigiri.
Then there is Coast’s take-home Signature Sushi Box, for six or more people, with gems like mango California rolls with Dungeness crab and avocado; ahi tuna, hamachi, sockeye salmon, and spot prawn sashimi; nigiri featuring ika (cuttlefish), ikura (salmon roe) and more; and battera (pressed sushi), with items like anago (saltwater eel) and saba (mackerel).
Stefan, for whom the one ingredient he couldn’t live without is good salt, says that a leading food trend that’s here to last is a focus on sustainability.
“I feel that more and more owners and kitchen leaders are thinking about their environmental impact, and I think that it is an important and necessary food trend—one that we all need to improve on and get better at,” he says, noting that Coast sources Ocean Wise seafood wherever possible.
Beyond excellent fish and seafood (plus prime steak direct from sister restaurant Black+Blue), Stefan says that what makes the restaurant stand apart is the staff. He is heartened to see culinary artists so dedicated to their craft, especially amid the challenges of the pandemic.
“I’m happiest at work when I see my team exceed expectations and individuals grow,” he says. “Working in a busy seafood restaurant means our ingredients are always fresh. Seafood in any presentation is our specialty. But it’s the people that work for us that make the restaurant so unique.”