Dineout Reviews: Dineout Vancouver 2011

Boy oh boy, this was quite the big Dineout Vancouver year with 5 dinners, three of which were with friends. In addition to these five, NPY went to one with his family to Maenam and I went to a Winterlicious meal in Toronto; and it was a great chance to get to know a colleague at work through talking about food, swapping stories, learning about places we’re each going to but don’t have the time/stomach/money to go to as well!

hidden tasting bar and social lounge

My “redo” of this year was to return to hidden, the tasting lounge that NPY and I went to last year with F+E. Originally I wanted to take the girls to try 100 Days, the innovative restaurant in Opus in Yaletown but reviews of it being so noisy, weird/uncomfortable dining room furniture, a time limit on your dining, and a risky menu, deterred me and I changed our reservation to hidden. The setting is swanky, the location just five minutes driving from my house, the price ($18) was right, and three little girls like us should not complain about the portions. NPY was sad I spent an evening without him but also would feel like the odd person out at what he called the Little Person Dinner: we max out at about 5-feet-1-inch.

When a hidden staffer confirmed my Opentable.com reservation, he asked if it was a special occasion and I said it was one of our party’s birthday (it was two days away) and she was presented with a small flute of sparkling wine with a flower in the liquid.

We got to try both the appetizers with one order of the bacon lollipops with maple aoli and two orders of the Pink Lady apple salad. When they said bacon, we thought Western bacon but we recognized the pork belly (cao yook) style of “bacon” immediately, too. That’s always tasty. The salad was also wonderful, light, with some lightly cooked leaves, great quail eggs fried to a soft-boiled consistency.

Two additional appetizers greeted us at the top of the prix fixe menu and their prices were reasonable additions to the $18 3-course menu. We had one oyster each, already cooked, in the shell, with a choice of horseradish, ginger, or sesame sauce. We also ordered the poutine that had chunks of lobster, cheddar cheese, and creamy Bearnaise sauce. It was a beautiful, sinful combination.

C and I ordered the oyster po’ boy sandwich and we got to try one other of the three entree options, the pork ravioli. I got to try 1/2  a ravioli and was not thrilled–the pasta was dry or too thick. The sandwich was really tasty and part way through I was struggling to finish. Fried oysters are my favourite and there were four of them, crispy bread crumb batter and sinfully tender. I worked my way through the ‘slaw and salad and save the best–goat cheese crisps and oysters on bread–for last.

It was another nice gesture for the chef to scribble “Happy Birthday” on C‘s plate. I wasn’t as thrilled about dessert as I was last year–not a fan of the coconut part of banana coconut tart, and my grown-up peanut butter and jelly sandwich was just weird. But they get points for being different–they have a stand-out menu that brought me back for a second Dineout in a row.

Steamworks Brewing Company

A funny little story. NPY and I are going to Dineout with another couple and they came up with lists of possible restaurants before we did. I finally got mine together and then NPY got his in. When Ed and I reviewed the four lists, I tossed out NPY’s choices quite quickly and he quite quickly noticed the strikethroughs his choices. To make it up, I agreed to go to Steamworks, although I had only been to once about five years ago and wasn’t impressed. I even found an alternative, Irish Heather, but NPY seemed disappointed and I relented.

I’ve always like the Gastown area of Vancouver and the atmosphere inside Steamworks was fun and relaxed. Our seats were a little funny with my bench seat too high for the table and I–the far shorter one–had to slouch to feel on the same level as NPY in his normal chair.

NPY wasn’t so fond of the tomato soup nor was I. The croutons got soggy really quickly and we don’t really like the tomato paste texture. I liked the salad fair enough and let NPY have most of it.

There were three choices of mains and neither of us wanted the polenta. NPY went for the pasta because he’s the seafood-pasta type-a guy. I tried some and it the light cream sauce was very flavourful. My sirloin steak was okay with a touch of class conferred by the blue cheese and walnuts. I did like the roasted blue potatoes and having greens on my plate.

NPY was most excited about the desserts, a Hedgehog ice cream pie and mousse. It was the ice cream pie that he liked best of the menu and he fought for Steamworks based on it. It was delicious and a generous portion. Then we turned our attention to the mousse which NPY found malty and liked a lot as well.

Bistro 101 at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts

We have a very ambitious last weekend of Dineout 2011 with three dinners booked. I’m so glad that I snagged a reservation at Bistro 101 when one freed up on a Friday night and that it was the first of three–otherwise, NPY would have been able to cancel a dinner that is just the two of us. It was also a Canucks-Blackhawks game night but thankfully it was not a place where you would accidentally glimpse the game or even overhear people talking about it.

We stepped into Bistro 101 and I felt a short twinge of disappointment–it is so plain. I momentarily clashed with the maitre’d who reminded us of the pissy co-host of Masterchef America, Joe Bastianich. “I have a reservation for two for <my name>” “You want a table by the window??” “No! The reservation is for <my name>!” NPY kept calling it a cafeteria because, well, it’s not carpeted but slate-tiled floors, the table and chair were very basic with thin cushioning on the seats, the black serviette was very utilitarian like pressed gauze. Our waiter, Blake, was really eager even if he needed a little prompting and NPY showed himself a nice guy tipping well and feeling for the service staff.

The first bread basket we received had two round savoury rolls and one baguette. NPY ate 1.5 savoury rolls and the baguette so I asked for more bread, raving about the round rolls and he brought us five more! They were so fresh and flakey and there were herbs throughout.

I avoided beet/goat cheese salad and ordered the other two appetizers. I didn’t know what winter squash would taste like and the recipe they came up to did not suit my palate. It was sour and further insulted me with the shreds of ginger–just not my taste, nor NPY’s. The daily recipe for the mussels was a nice one but I was going to order it anyways–it was lemongrass cream while the mussels were steamed in white wine with butter. They don’t source the plumpest of mussels but they were good nonetheless. I worried it also had ginger threads but it was topped with pommes frites with the quality of Hickory Sticks. Yum!

NPY is so funny, wondering why I didn’t order the ravioli. When challenged like that, I did consider tossing out the veal but persuaded him that we were getting lots of value for our money (just a $18 Dineout!) and the fish and veal dishes both have rice, to satisfy his carbs desire. NPY was not so impressed with his dish–I guess the rice was bland–until he got to the fish. “Sablefish is always tasty,” and I agree it was made right. I’m trying to get my fish fill to not be disappointed not have Lift sea bass in two nights’ time…. I loved the lotus root chips topping the dish but everything else was really bland, or light, whichever way you spin it. I started on the veal osso buco before we switched plates and found the meal kind of tough, not fall-off-the-bone. NPY liked the tendon-y pieces that were included. I was happy to switch but enjoyed the sauce and risotto.

There were also three choices for dessert and I chose the lemon meringue tart and chocolate mousse dome. Boy were were full in no small part from filling up on the bread! The chocolate mousse was good and I liked the “nut tuille” that arrived because I’m a fan of those sticky chocolate almond florentine pastries. Surprisingly, to me, I though the lemon tart was just okay–with the highlight being a buttery crust that was lined with a layer of chocolate. NPY loves lemon meringue so he enjoyed that one.

YEW Restaurant

NPY had been to YEW in the Four Seasons a couple times without me so I was eager to go and we could agree on the restaurant with another couple as our 2011 Dineout pick. In retrosepect we should have gone to Oru, which we talked about over dinner but oh well. As it turned out we ordered two sets of the exact same dinner–great minds… okay, the choices on a prix fixe menu are somewhat limited.

The salad option did not appeal to anyone so we chose to “enhance” our $38 prix fixe menu with the lobster ravioli. The guys munched on it wondered about the exact proportion of lobster content. Very little? What else was used to fill it? I thought I could identify some crab and I found the pasta tough. My porcini soup was quite nice, a really big bowl of potent and thick mushroom broth with an inexplicable, but not unappreciated, slice of Camembert on rye.

For the second night in a row, NPY and I had sablefish/black cod because that is the nature of those menus. Other entree choices included veal cheeks, risotto, and the “enhanced” option of steak frites. As much as steak frites sounded nice, it was a stretch to be willing to “enhance” our meal by $10. And the idea of getting risotto was ridiculous, so veal cheeks it was. Of course the appearance of the foam (carrot, I think) was a little surprising, as was also the rectangular prism that looked like tofu but was a tasty parsnip souffle. It was more like mashed parsnip molded into a block. NPY’s cod was night and light with a tough of a crunchy seared exterior. My veal was too salty for my liking but a generous portion that I had to share with NPY–he can have my sauteed spinach if he will also take some tender veal.

Of the pineapple tart, which only got its name from the slices topping it, I enjoyed most the meringue roll. NPY liked my chocolate pot au creme, calling it malty.

Lift Bar-Grill-View

We were in two minds about canceling our last Dineout dinner–despite eating lightly throughout the day, the three-course dinners washed down with a glass of wine were really rich and filling and we just about had it. But our last one was with another couple, Kino, we usually never see so we went with it….

Three of us ordered the crispy duck leg confit with the fourth of us ordering the salmon only out of a dietary concern about eating a leg of duck. The third appetizer was a dynamite roll–fancy Asian/seafood restaurant or not, we weren’t going to order it! I was pleased that the duck was the the dried slab I feared it would be but a really strongly flavoured moist piece of meat. The salad had an unadvertised kick from peppercorn and maybe even chili although it said it was an adzuki-sesame dressing.

NPY and I went for value and volume and we ordered the lamb shank and spaghettini. Was a pasta dish worth it for a $38 Dineout? Perhaps not but I knew that I could pare back on my own dinner by ordering the pasta and giving it to NPY as a sort of palate-cleanser. He was so hungry he polished off his lamb and I tried some of the bean sauce it sat on and it had remarkably good flavour from the combination of olives, rosemary, garlic, tomatoes, chorizo, white beans, and even fennel. My spaghettini was okay with the nice touch of using oyster mushrooms. But the generously provided four hulk of meatballs were dry, only going down because there was ample fragrant red wine-pomidoro sauce.

Kino’s tuna sashimi was beautiful to behold so I asked to be able to take a picture. Six slices of seared tuna sat atop delicate futomaki that was dusted with panko crumbs. I kind of wished I had ordered that instead.

NPY ordered the cheesecake and moved the port-poached bear to my plate of dessert medley before I took a picture therefore the cute little pear appears twice. I tried a bite of his cheesecake and it was oddly flavoured with a goat cheese that I might have enjoyed but had to tackle my plate of goodies. I was bummed my creme brulee was not very brulee but there was a crisped sugar layer over the wonderfully creamy custard. The chocolate torte below the ice cream/gelato was ultra rich and dense. I took a couple bites of the jellys, prefering the darker one that is grape flavour or something.

I wanted to remark on how good I thought the server was. He wasn’t overeager but well-trained to be appropriately polite and give us (and probably anyone else) five-star service. We’ve been to a lot of restaurants recenty trying to have similar images but the service has been across the board with Lift’s being amongst the top.

On this day..