Taking a page out of a Tom Waits song, Victoria’s new Rain Dogs Wine Bar is billed as “a place for people to enjoy themselves, maybe get lost in there for the night and lose track of time …”
Boldly opening mid-pandemic last December, Rain Dogs provides a unique setting in Chinatown, unique offerings like the tantalizing “Blind Date” wine flights, and “artfully crafted small plates to pair with a carefully curated wine selection.”
Boulevard chatted with owner Chad Rennie, sommelier Charleen (Charly) Buter, and chef Landon Crawford to find out more.
Chad Rennie, owner
What was the motivation and inspiration behind Rain Dogs Wine Bar, and when did you open?
I have always had a great love of great wine and food. With my other businesses, I travelled quite extensively, and always made searching out interesting places for food and wine a priority. The plan was to one day use this knowledge and my own thoughts and experiences to build and open my own restaurant, and bring a unique experience to its guests.
I’ve always wondered why the enjoyment of exceptional food and great wine has to be associated with sitting in a quiet, subdued space with a dress code of sorts or implied. What I wanted was a place where you could experience all of these things, but with a more playful, entertaining and engaging atmosphere—a sort of adult playground.
The idea was to have an ever-evolving and diverse food and wine menu enjoyed in a space with incredible art, musicians and poets: a place you don’t want to leave, can’t wait to return to and can be completely relaxed enough to hang out solo. I think Rain Dogs provides a fun, interactive, high-end yet comfortable experience for all of our customers.
I took possession of the space on November 1, 2020 and renovated, hired and trained the team in 40 days, opening on December 10.
Why the name Rain Dogs?
I am very much into art and music, and the name comes from a Tom Waits song called “Rain Dogs.” Real rain dogs are dogs who are lost out in a town and can’t find their way home because their scent has been washed away by a hard rain. The Tom Waits song is about people getting lost out on the town for the night, drinking wine and rum, and relating them to rain dogs, “for I am a rain dog too.” This is what I want Rain Dogs to be—a place for people to enjoy themselves, maybe get lost in there for the night and lose track of time in this adult playground.
Charleen (Charly) Buter, sommelier
How did you go about selecting wines for Rain Dogs? Is there a theme or philosophy?
When I first came to Victoria, I noticed that a lot of restaurants and bars are focusing on a specific country or region on their wine menu. But there are so many great wines out there! We don’t want to limit our selection to a specific region or origin but, instead, showcase what the world has to offer.
We feature amazing wines from some of the most renowned wine regions, like Italy, France and Spain, alongside some great local wines from Vancouver Island and elsewhere in BC.
We also have selections from countries you may not think about when you want to drink a great wine. For example, we have an outstanding wine from China.
We offer all of our wines by the glass, as well in a tasting size. That gives our guests the chance to try something new and enjoy more than just one wine. We want guests to learn something new and lose their preconception about certain grapes.
That’s also why we offer something really fun at Rain Dogs: a tasting flight called Blind Date, where you will only find out what you are drinking after you’ve sampled it. It gives you the chance to concentrate on what you see, smell and taste in the wine. It often happens that our guests love a wine they would usually never order.
What is a good simple piece of advice for pairing wine and food?
I think the most important piece of advice is to drink wine you enjoy. Don’t just focus on wine that would perfectly accompany the meal, because if you don’t like what you’re drinking, it could ruin your dining experience.
Having said that, there are no hard-set rules to pair wine and food, but there are some easy tips you can follow. It’s important that there’s a balance between your wine and food. Neither should overpower the other. With white wines, you often find this balance when you contrast the flavour of wine and food. For example, if you have a fatty and creamy pasta dish, it will pair well with a highly acidic wine. Red wine, on the other hand, does well with food that shares the same flavour profile. If you have a nice barbecued ribeye, it will work great with a smoky and peppery Shiraz.
When you come visit us at Rain Dogs, let us help you with the wine pairing. Together we’ll find a wine you enjoy and that also pairs well with our food.
Landon Crawford, chef
What was the inspiration, theme or philosophy that directed the menu creation at Rain Dogs?
At Rain Dogs we’re trying to encompass the feeling of dining in classic and old-world cities of Europe. We want to disrupt the mentality of structured, three-course dining and show that eating out can be more interactive, communal and stimulating. We do this by serving our dishes in small share plates, as well as in an as-it-comes style. We want people to share food and sample more of it, while they pair it with different wines. We aim to create an unpretentious atmosphere, where guests can enjoy great food and wine.
Our goal with our menu, and especially with a few items on it, is to allow the guests to let their guard down as we guide and surprise them. We want to push a few boundaries and get our guests out of their comfort zone by trying something new or an ingredient done in a completely different way. It’s fun and exciting and we’re sure you won’t regret it.
Rain Dogs Wine Bar’s cuisine pays homage to the classic wine regions of Western Europe; however, our dishes are also inspired by the seasons, the local surroundings and our own take on how these fit together. The menu is unmistakably seasonal and that means really relying on building relationships with local producers, farms and foragers. When people eat our food and try the elements in the dishes, we want them to think “yes, this tastes like summer.”
What would you describe as Rain Dogs’ specialty and what three items best exemplify this?”
Our menu is both focused and constantly fluid, sometimes changing daily, based on our ingredients or bursts of creativity. So it’s difficult to lay out a certain specialty. However, there are a few staple dishes that now have somewhat of a cult following and we probably won’t be able to alter them (too much).
One of these is our tortellini with a cauliflower puree base, topped with our house-made confit duck tortellini, arugula oil and thyme sauce. It is labour intensive, with the thyme sauce taking about five days to make from scratch. But it’s well worth it when you see how much people are enjoying it.
Another dish that stands out is our grilled octopus. We slow braise Pacific octopus overnight, and then brush it with a chorizo oil before grilling it over open charcoals on our Yakitori grill. We finish it with a bright umami marinade and the octopus comes out very tender with a nice smoky char. Last, but certainly not least, is our house-made sourdough bread. This is another labour of love and every week we are producing more to meet demands. We are constantly modifying and striving to perfect our bread for our guests. The results are promising and something you’ll definitely have to try when coming in!
Check out the menus at Rain Dogs Wine Bar here.