428 Carrall St, Vancouver BC V6B 2J7
Friday night in one the sketchiest neighbourhoods in the Lower Mainland, we made our way through the Chinatown/DTES corridor for a late dinner of Caribbean food. Calabash was one of my favourite places for a night out in my late teens/early twenties. I always describe their basement dance parties as akin to that of a Sean Paul music video house party.
The restaurant is quite small already with the majority of tables downstairs where the live music/dance parties happen. Upstairs, we sat right in the middle table among four other tables around us. I was definitely feeling the pangs of youthful drunken nights – it didn’t take much for the manager (and bartender) to sell us on some featured mango mojitos. They were super tasty, and you could tell it was made fresh.
We started with some coconut dumplings which are essentially fried dough balls with shredded coconut in it. They were light, sweet, and crunchy on the outside, though not greasy at all. They were served with whipped mango + guava butter which was heavenly. This was border-line a dessert however there was a slight savory component which made them irresistible.
I finished my mojito pretty quickly – chalk it up to being thirsty. It’s rare that I come to Calabash and don’t have a Dark and Stormy, and tonight wasn’t going to be one of those nights. I don’t like rum at all (read: hate) but I make an exception for this cocktail and Calabash does it super well – all syrup and ginger beer made in-house, just enough spice and sweetness. It really is a great one.
We both ordered their specials (aka not on the regular menu) – I got the ackee and saltfish while my partner got the goat curry. Let’s start with the goat: his dish came in cute three-tiered stacking metal containers. The Manager brought it over, un-clipped each cylinder, and placed them on the table, each containing rice, salad, and the curry. The curry itself was quite hearty, bones and all. The goat had a distinctive game flavor to it and the curry was on the spicy side – quite the Jamaican kick. I enjoyed it but didn’t order it myself because I’m not a fan of goat.
My ackee and saltfish was on the opposite of the spectrum – light, salty, full of colourful veggies and so delicious. As I ate spoonfuls, I couldn’t recall the last time I had this dish and wish I could have it more often. The fish was tender but flavourful, the ackee was sweet and reminiscent of bell peppers, with a little more firmness. This was my favourite dish of the evening and I would order it again if it was on special and available.
The manager and several servers came by throughout our meal to refill waters, clear the dishes, wipe down the table, and ask us how we were doing. The service was really great! Unfortunately, it’s hard to have a nice evening when you’re smack-dab in the middle of skid-row. Just after we received our drinks, an ambulance pulled up outside and left their lights on for the duration of our dinner, likely dealing with an overdose. We joked with the manager that the lights created a night club strobe light vibe, but the novelty wore off. He came and apologized later on, mentioning that he hoped it would turn off soon.
We finished our food, went downstairs quickly to check out the DJ who was spinning to a bunch of seated patrons – a huge departure from the ol’ days of bumping and grinding until 2:00AM. Overall, I enjoyed the food, the service, and the opportunity to reminisce. Oh, the music is really loud – you’ve been warned.
- Mango Mojito $12
- Calabash Dark and Stormy $12
- Coconut Dumplings $6
- Goat Curry $26
- Ackee and Saltfish $23
Beats: Get Busy/Like Glue – Sean Paul – watch this video to see what I mean