Hart House in season

Popular fine dining restaurant has something for everyone in unique lakeside setting

Since 1988, the Hart House has been delighting diners with their fine dining options, white linen service and impeccable service.

And while the behind-the-scenes maestro is owner Paul Smolen and wife Carol, the job of executing the restaurant's award-winning vision falls to general manager Edwyn Kumar, assistant general manager Bill Eckardt and executive chef Alana Peckham.

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The trio have a long history going back many years, as Kumar and Peckham worked together at Lumiere and Feenie's in Vancouver and Eckardt worked with Peckham at CRU, also in Vancouver.

Now the band's all back together in Burnaby, with Kumar having been manager since 2008, Peckham assuming her job in April and Eckardt joining his friends in August.

What hasn't changed is Hart House's attention to fine dining detail. When the Burnaby NOW sat down with Kumar and Eckardt recently, the duo were just finishing off the preparations around their final outdoor wedding of the summer/fall.

"We've done almost 50 this year and it's been a fantastic year," said Kumar. "From May to September, the tented wedding celebrations we have are a lot of work, but it's been great and we're looking forward to the autumn and the Christmas party season."

That means the focus moves back inside where the dining room seats 90 and that's where Eckardt's expertise comes in handy.

"I come from a background that includes working in an old English-style inn," said Eckardt of one of his first jobs in Toronto when he was 17. "Now, 20 years later, I'm in a beautiful house serving great food."

Eckardt worked for nine years at CRU and after the owner closed the restaurant, Eckardt took some time off before Peckham's recommendation had Eckardt and Kumar meeting.

"I think I interviewed just before the (August) long weekend and I was thinking that I could start after the weekend and Edwyn asks me if I can start on the Friday. . There was a large wedding that weekend and it's been non-stop since."

October will be celebrated with a Harvest at Hart House theme, with a two-course menu for $32 that will feature such delectable and filling choices as arctic char, short rib or squab.

It's all a prelude to the Christmas season and Christmas Day itself.

"That's one of our biggest nights," said Kumar. "It's a very popular night."

Both Kumar and Eckardt note that one of the biggest changes in dining has been how knowledgeable diners are before they enter a restaurant.

"People know what's on the menu, what's on your wine list and what you're trying to create," said Eckardt. "You can't fake it. Everybody's savvy and what it means is we can interact with them on a higher level."

Kumar agrees, saying that he's really taken to the restaurant's social media platforms, @HartHouseRest on Twitter and www.facebook.com/ HartHouseRestaurant on Facebook.

"I think it's fantastic," he said. "The feedback is so instantaneous."

Kumar relates the story of selling an Italian wine, Tweeting about it, and then having the winemaker in Italy responding back his appreciation. Another thing Kumar has championed is having each of his lunch, brunch and dinner menus on one page.

"We print everything in house, so if we have something special that (Alana) wants to put on the menu, we can have a new menu printed up right away," said Kumar.

Take a quick look down each of the menus and you'll find some delectable dishes at quite affordable prices.

The current lunch menu has an $18 lobster knuckle main course served with baby shrimp, apple and a side salad. And while that seems like a great deal, go even further down and check out the express lunch two-course meal for $19, which I tried recently with my first course being the tomato dill soup and my main the beer battered ling cod with fries, tartar sauce and house coleslaw.

The brunch menu is similar to the lunch menu, but splurge a bit for the $23 steak and eggs, featuring a 10ounce veal T-bone, eggs, Hollandaise sauce and house potatoes.

I haven't had dinner at Hart House in some time, but the tea smoked sablefish for $30 would have to be my first choice, while the duck leg confit for $23 would be a close second.

Kumar takes little credit for Hart House's success, saying the Smolens are the true visionaries.

"They're the best owners ever," said Kumar. "They know the business, they know people and they let us do our jobs."

As for the future, Kumar said it's a matter of adding new twists to what's already made Hart House so successful.

"We're not going to change the formula," said Kumar. "We'll stay ahead of what's happening, but we know that what makes us special is people come here because they want to be a part of what we've created here. . There's something unique about fine dining in a house that feels like a home to so many people."

Hart House, located at 6664 Deer Lake Ave. is open six days a week (closed Monday). For more info, go to www.harthouserestaurant.com.

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