Cafe Kitsuné represents the best of Paris and Tokyo

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With 39 retail stores and 17 cafes around the world, Maison Kitsuné and Cafe Kitsuné are opening their first Canadian store in Vancouver.

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Cafe Kitsune

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Or: 157 Water Street, Vancouver

When: Open daily, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Information: 236-477-4777. maisonkitsune.com

If Paris and Tokyo were procreating, you know kids would be cool. Cafe Kitsuné is that cool kid, a hybrid between two avant-garde urban cultures.

And the adjacent Maison Kitsuné clothing store in Gastown is the 39th of a growing international brand founded by Parisian Gildas Loaëc – the former artistic director of Daft Punk – and Tokyo-born Masaya Kuroki, who trained in architect.

Vancouver’s Cafe Kitsuné — clean, understated, light and bright — is the 17th. This opened on December 28 and is the first in Canada before the openings in Toronto and Montreal. Kitsune, which means fox in Japanese, symbolizes the power to change appearance and adapt.

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The duo’s partnership began in 2002 as a music and fashion label. In 2014, they added a cafe to the concept. Their latest cafe is in a building owned by Lululemon founder Chip Wilson.

Lina Caschetto, the chef of Cafe Kitsuné, is herself a hybrid. She started out in fashion design — coincidentally, working at Lululemon — before following her real interest, cooking. She spent seven years in France in various restaurants and in Vancouver worked at Fable in its early days. As she says, she wears many hats — she recently purchased and reopened the Say Hey sandwich shop in Chinatown. Another story, another time.

“The menu is French but Japanese. He finds his middle. I wouldn’t use the word fusion, but it finds a place in between in its own way,” Caschetto says of Cafe Kitsuné.

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Her stay in France and a Japanese aunt who exposed her to Japanese flavors helped pave this way.

The small menu offers simple, quality comfort food in two parts. Breakfast and lunch items are available from 8:00 a.m. until closing. And after 3 p.m., the “Sur La Pouce” or “on the go” menu is added for an afternoon of wine and snacks.

You order at the counter and the food is delivered to you on, I noticed, Limoges plates. The kitchen is small and minimal, so some things are outsourced to respected companies like Gifts Bakery, Butterboom and Bread Affair.

My husband and I went for lunch one day and was disappointed that I couldn’t order from the afternoon menu. However, my husband was really thrilled with his classic croque madame with smoked salmon ($19) on sourdough toast. My scrambled eggs with aonori butter mushrooms and the goat cheese on a toasted baguette ($15) was covered in mushrooms and quite satisfying. Aonori is powdered or flaked nori.

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There is no global corporate menu, but one thing is common to all Kitsuné Cafes around the world: the shortbread fox cookie, an edible logo. A matcha raspberry financier was beautifully presented, coated in a matcha ganache and drizzled with white icing.

Our coffee and matcha latte were excellent – one of the few brands in town that I would say the same about. They roast their own beans in New York.

Came back after 3pm one day to try out some of the On the Go items. A yaki onigiri ($6.50) was stuffed with smoked salmon and lightly grilled – perhaps too lightly. I missed the crispy surface of the grilled onigiri but the rice was very good with nori and shiso sheets.

Gigante, edamame and roasted olives ($10.50) with baguette slices didn’t hit the mark. The sweet and sour dish had chunks of salty lemon zest and a very tangy lemon vinaigrette.

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But a big mwah! Black Garlic Burrata with fresh, creamy burrata topped with black garlic glaze and tempura pieces for brushing on a baguette.

The cruffin at Cafe Kitsuné at 157 Water Street, Vancouver.  Photo: Mia Stainsby.
The cruffin at Cafe Kitsuné at 157 Water Street, Vancouver. Photo: Mia Stainsby. Photo by Mia Stainsby /PNG

The black sesame cruffin was a surprise. How could a muffin improve on the classic croissant? Well… uh. It’s better than a muffin for sure and better than a croissant with lots of crunch and a voluptuous black sesame cream.

Our wine was served with a handful of ‘Kits Mix’, a play on Chex Mix with some Japanese additions. It is on the menu and sold packaged as well.

And speaking of wine, it’s almost exclusively natural wines, including hard-to-find bottles. BC wineries like Neon Eon, Else, Ursa Major and Scout, and legendary French natural winemakers like Lemasson and Mark Angeli.

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Layla Frances, Sake and Wine Manager Smith has worked at Bao Bei, Kissa Tanto and Burdock and Co. and she got me very interested in a Japanese wine, Fattoria Al Fiore.

“It’s a transcendent experience – ethereal and delicate,” Smith says. “What I love most about Japanese wines is that they don’t try to be anything else.”

Unfortunately, when I asked for it on my second visit, they hadn’t received any yet.

The wines, Smith says, were chosen to be delicious at any time of the day and where you don’t have to think about what you want to eat first.

“I focused on wines that were a pleasure to drink or eat. It’s silly but these are joyful and convivial wines and made with minimal intervention.

Caschetto and Smith have both been enlisted to shape the next Cafe Kitsuné in Brooklyn.

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Dishes from Anh and Chi restaurant, which raises money for Ukrainian refugees through its donation reservation program.  Photo: Leila Kwok.
Dishes from Anh and Chi restaurant, which raises money for Ukrainian refugees through its donation reservation program. Photo: Leila Kwok. Photo by Leila Kwok /PNG

ACCOMPANIMENTS: Fundraising for Ukrainian refugees

The family behind Anh and Chi restaurant started out as Vietnamese refugees and this story is etched in their hearts.

Since December 2020, they have been giving back by raising funds through their reservation-by-donation program. Customers can reserve a table for $10 per person, and proceeds will go to one of three to four local charities to choose from — otherwise, it’s first come, first served.

And now, until May 15, the money raised will be used to help Ukrainian refugees through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Canada and the restaurant will match donations up to $5,000.

“Our parents arrived in Vancouver as Vietnamese refugees by boat in 1980 and what is happening in Ukraine reminds our family of that devastating time,” said Amelie Nguyen, one of the owners.

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The Reservation By Donation program has, during the pandemic, donated $50,000 to organizations focused on food security, housing, mental health and counseling needs, marginalized and at-risk youth and families.

Additionally, Lac Viet Education and other Vietnamese community leaders are hosting a fundraising banquet on March 25, with live music, a silent auction and a raffle to benefit UNHCR Canada. The banquet will be held at Pink Pearl Seafood Restaurant, 1132 East Hastings St., Vancouver, beginning at 6 p.m. Tickets are $60 per person. To book, email [email protected] or call 604-866-5533.

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